Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Majority of Graduate Student Workers Sign Letter Calling for Collective Bargaining Rights

More than 500 graduate student employees signed an open letter calling for Boston College President Fr. William Leahy and the Board of Trustees to recognize and bargain collectively with the Boston College Graduate Employees Union-United Auto Workers, according to a union press release on Wednesday.

The BCGEU-UAW press release also announced a campaign called "Reform Boston College," which aims to "raise awareness of the university's mistreatment of student workers and encourage the university to honor its values throughout the academic year."

Signed by the majority of graduate students employed as teaching and research assistants at BC, the letter lists grievances related to their working conditions, including insufficient wages and health coverage, an irregular pay schedule, a lack of support for international student employees, and the need to improve policies to protect workers from sexual harassment and assault.

Further, the letter criticizes "Boston College's ongoing disregard for the well-being of students of color, producing an unwelcoming, unjust campus and workplace atmosphere."

The graduate students proposed that collective bargaining is the best solution to resolve these challenges facing the university.

"Collective bargaining allows us to address these issues in a way that facilitates collaboration and cooperation between the workers and the administration," said the letter, noting that other private universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, Tufts, and Georgetown, have already begun to negotiate with graduate student employees.

Additionally, students point to Catholic and Jesuit historical commitment to affirming the rights of workers.

"Pope Francis states, 'There is no good society without good unions,' " said the letter. "In light of this tradition, Boston College should recognize the collaboration with the union, thus acknowledging and honoring the dignity of workers."

Despite union organizing efforts over the course of several semesters, the university has continuously refused to bargain with BCGEU-UAW and even sanctioned 16 students for their participation in two protests during Parent's Weekend last fall.

"Our position remains that graduate student unionization in any form undermines the collegial, mentoring relationship among students and faculty that is a cornerstone of this academic community," said Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley in the most recent letter to the BC community regarding unionization last September.

Wednesday's letter was sent two years after the BC administration refused to recognize the results of a National Labor Relations Board election in September 2017, in which the majority of graduate students employees voted to be represented by BCGEU-UAW.

The union statement highlights the growth of their movement in the past two years, noting that the number of students who signed this week's letter exceeds the number of participants in the election.

Further, the movement has gained attention beyond the BC community, receiving endorsements from Democratic presidential candidates and senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders this summer.

The Boston City Council also passed a resolution supporting graduate student workers at BC in April and hosted a hearing on the working conditions for graduate students at local universities in June. While graduate students workers from BC, Northeastern, Harvard, and Boston University testified at the hearing, none of the university administrations sent a representative to the meeting.

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