The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has set a date for eligible graduate employees at Boston College to vote on whether or not to certify the Boston College Graduate Employees Union—United Auto Workers (BCGEU-UAW) as their representative to the university.
The vote, which will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 12 and Wednesday, Sept. 13, was announced by the NLRB on July 5. The union had filed a petition in March to certify its organization after a two-year organizing campaign.
While dozens of public universities have graduate student unions, private universities have had much less success with collective bargaining. New York University was the only university to acquire contractual bargaining rights recognized by the university for a period of time. However, on Aug. 24, 2016, the NLRB ruled in the case of Columbia University that graduate students are employees, opening the doors for other graduate students to form unions.
The NLRB ruled that BC’s graduate employees were covered under the National Labor Relations Act in May, allowing for a vote to move forward. In this case, the BC administration argued that, as a religious educational institution, it was exempt from the Board’s jurisdiction due to Supreme Court precedent. However, the Board applied previous case precedent from a decision it had made in the case of Pacific Lutheran University, and rejected that the university was exempt as a whole.
BC argued that with this precedent, students in the departments of theology and philosophy should still remain exempt. The NLRB accepted this appeal in part, making all students in the Theology Department and School of Theology and Ministry ineligible to unionize, and therefore unable to vote.
The Gavel spoke with David Sessions, GMCAS ‘22, a doctoral candidate in the History Department and active member of the Union.
“It’s an outrageous and anti-Catholic argument,” Sessions said, in reference to the exclusion decision. “It’s essentially saying that people who perform religious missions shouldn’t have any rights.”
In spite of that loss, successful unionization is expected to lead to a host of benefits that many students have been trying to obtain for years.
“There are many issues that have motivated people to become organizers, to sign cards, and to be enthusiastic about the union: the biggest ones include pay and cost of living, health and dental insurance, family/parental leave, security for international students, and a fair grievance policy,” Sessions said.
What a “yes” vote would effectively do is make BC legally required to bargain with the union, and therefore create an agreed upon contract that will ensure negotiated rights and benefits.
“A contract gives us two things, power and security, that I can’t imagine anyone would reject,” said Sessions. “I think a lot of people realize that a union brings real power to deal with these in a way we haven’t had, and that a contract is essential to protect even people who ‘have it good.’ Without a contract, everything is a benevolent fantasy that can disappear without explanation at any moment.”
Many other universities are going through similar processes. Tufts and Brandeis University, to name a few, have recently successfully voted in favor of union representation. Harvard must hold a re-vote, because it did not provide enough data on eligible voters prior to its election.
Some universities have begun appeals and other tactics that delay the actual bargaining process, including Yale and Columbia. President Donald Trump has recently appointed Philip A. Miscimarra as Chairman of the NLRB, and he may bring the Board’s policies in a less pro-union direction than in previous years under the Obama administration. This may give BC an incentive to begin appeals if there is a “yes” vote.