The Boston College Graduate Employee Union, BCGEU-UAW, has released a petition asking for cooperation from the BC administration to support graduate workers and other hourly employees during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition demands that hourly workers be paid the amount that they would have received on a regular work schedule, irrespective of how many hours they are currently working due to the safety concerns raised by the outbreak.
Currently, BC’s policy states that the university will pay graduate workers, “for work that they actually perform.” It is unclear what the rate of compensation is for that work, considering hours are likely shortened and many are working remotely, making hourly pay difficult to monitor.
BCGEU-UAW also demands that workers be allowed to work away from campus without any loss in pay or benefits, and that the administration will grant employees sufficient sick time, family and medical leave, and health benefits.
The BCGEU-UAW has previously battled BC’s administration in an effort to obtain collective bargaining rights. The union’s campaign previously gained the support of Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
However, BC has still refused to recognize the graduate workers union and even disciplined a number of union members for demonstrating during the 2018 Pops on the Heights. The petition for fair pay in light of the COVID-19 outbreak requests, “that the BC administration recognizes and negotiates with the BCGEU-UAW, both to address the need of graduate workers during this current crisis, but also towards a union contract for graduate workers.”
In response to the chaos wreaked upon people’s lives by the outbreak, some universities, such as Ohio State University, are offering grad workers paid disaster leave. Others, like Harvard, are compensating graduate students for the number of hours they would have worked this semester if they are unable to work remotely.
These institutions stand in stark contrast with BC’s administration, which has failed to provide its graduate students with any security in these uncertain times. Most graduate workers do not have the option to continue working on campus considering research labs and administrative offices have now closed until the COVID-19 outbreak is controlled. For many, these facilities are necessary to continue their duties, and remote work is not an option.
Meanwhile, those who have the option of continuing to work on campus are forced to choose between supporting themselves financially and their health and safety. Grad workers at BC are already underpaid, living in one of the most expensive areas in the U.S., and possibly carrying student loans dating back to their undergrad years. Those in precarious financial situations have no choice: they must continue to work despite the risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to others.
BC’s current policy is prompting anxiety among grad workers during an already immensely stressful period. As an employer, it is immoral for BC to deny its workers financial aid during a deadly pandemic. Most graduate workers will either experience a decrease in income or complete loss of income without the opportunity to file for unemployment benefits.
Many landlords in the Boston area are not waiving rent payments despite the rapid increase in unemployment. If BC does not amend its policy regarding graduate worker compensation, graduate workers may find themselves without housing in the next couple of months.
Even in less severe instances, graduate workers will still face severe economic hardship with no way to seek out another form of income.
BC’s graduate workers deserve better. The impact that they have on our community is immeasurable, and their work is essential to the functioning of this institution. BC’s treatment of graduate workers should reflect their indispensable value.
The Gavel stands with BC’s graduate workers during this time of uncertainty, and we support their fight for sufficient pay during the COVID-19 pandemic.