Dozens of graduate student workers participated Thursday in the Work-In: BC Works Because We Do, an event organized by the Boston College Graduate Employees Union - United Auto Workers (BCGEU-UAW). The event called for the university to recognize the union and begin negotiating contracts for graduate student employees.
Graduate student employees, who perform critical university functions as researchers and teachers, gathered on the third floor of the O’Neill Library to work on the tasks they have been hired by BC to do as university employees.
“The work-in is supposed to communicate visually to the wider BC community that we are workers,” said second-year PhD candidate Victoria Gabriele, who has worked as a research and teaching assistant in the physics department. “We bring our work and we do it publicly to show that we make up the research backbone of this institution and also work in a teaching capacity.”
Over the past several years, graduate student employees have been involved in organizing the BCGEU-UAW to demand negotiation of contracts with the university—contracts which would better address working conditions and benefits.
BCGEU-UAW became the official union representing graduate research and teaching assistants after an election in September.
The election occurred following a National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) decision from August 2016, which ruled that Columbia University’s graduate student workers are employees of the university, establishing a precedent for the right of graduate student workers at private universities to unionize.
The union election was met with opposition from the Boston College administration, who has refused to recognize the union and begin negotiations.
Instead, administrators filed a petition to the NLRB in August to appeal the Columbia decision and prevent the union election. The appeal is still pending, although the NLRB went ahead with the election in September.
According to a letter sent by Vice President for Human Resources David Trainor to the BC community on Wednesday, the university has appealed based on the arguments that “(1) the Columbia University decision holding that graduate students are employees with rights to unionize was incorrectly decided and (2) the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over this matter because of Boston College’s Catholic and Jesuit identity.”
The letter continued, “The union’s call for Boston College to bargain with it now, while the status of its relationship with the graduate students is under legal review, amounts to an inappropriate attempt to shortcut established legal processes.”
In response to the administration’s letter this week, fifth-year doctoral student Amelie Daigle emphasized that BC has made a deliberate choice to challenge the union's organization.
“The wording in the letter made it sound like BC had no choice but to challenge the Columbia decision, that that was something they had to do,” said Daigle. “It’s not. They made a choice to challenge our right to unionize. If they succeed in that challenge and Columbia is overturned, no students at private universities will be able to unionize.”
Daigle pointed to the fact that students voted for the union in a fair and democratic election. Additionally, the approximately 400 graduate student employees signed a petition asking administrators to drop the appeal, evidence that the union should be recognized.
“We’ve had a massive ground swelling of support," said Daigle. “It’s important to realize that graduate students do want to unionize, and BC is choosing to ignore that preference.”
Despite the pending appeal, graduate students have continued to advocate for their right to union representation.
In the last semester, BCGEU-UAW held two rallies outside Gasson Hall on Nov. 12 and Oct. 17, participated in a silent demonstration as University President Father William Leahy spoke at the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, and organized a work-in at Hillside Cafe in December.
According to Daigle and other graduate student employees, the administration has thus far refused to engage in conversation about the union and negotiating contracts.
Nearly every day this semester, union representatives have visited the offices of Fr. Leahy and David Quigley, the Provost and Dean of Faculties. The union has documented every visit with photos posted on the BCGEU-UAW Facebook page.
“We ask to meet with them, to discuss these issues and any concerns that they have, and they have refused to meet with us consistently,” said Daigle. “They do not only refuse to bargain with us, they refuse to have a conversation with us.”