Grad Employees Union Files Petition with NLRB, Taking Next Step Toward Unionization Vote

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Updated on March 16, 2017 at 1:30 a.m.

On March 3, Boston College’s Graduate Employees Union – United Automobile Workers (BCGEU-UAW) served the office of University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. with a petition filing for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), taking the next step to become a unionized group.

BCGEU-UAW seeks to become a recognized student union to secure working conditions and procedures in a binding contract with the University. The first step to achieve unionization will be to hold an election on campus, in which at least 50 percent of eligible graduate workers need to vote in favor of being represented by BCGEU-UAW. Several voting stations would be set up around campus.

University Spokesman Jack Dunn said BC has received the petition and is reviewing it to determine next steps.

If the election is successful, the union will be able to bargain a contract with the University, which would be legally obligated to come to the table with the union. Jordan Theriault, GMCAS ’17, said at a Graduate Students Association town hall on Monday that the union filed when it did in order to have the election before exams, when people are extremely busy or are leaving for the summer.

After Harvard University, the BCGEU-UAW is the second graduate employees union in the Boston area to file for an election since August, when the NLRB ruled that graduate students at private universities are protected employees under the NLRB. Harvard’s election in December was not successful, although hundreds of votes remain in dispute because of voter eligibility concerns and objections from both union organizers and Harvard.

The union’s members hope to establish binding contracts with BC, rather than informal agreements. Theriault said the goal for the union is to obtain and secure benefits, including health care, better parental leave policies, and a living wage.

Theriault said part of the rationale for holding the election now is that President Trump could fill the NLRB with picks who are unfriendly to private university students’ unionization rights—the NLRB ruled in favor just seven months ago, and new members of the board could flip the decision. The justification for preventing graduate students from unionizing had previously been that they were students first and employees second.

BCGEU-UAW worked for two years to acquire signed authorization cards from at least 30 percent of BC’s eligible graduate employees, the requirement for filing election papers. David Sessions, GMCAS ’22, said the group had its 30 percent last year. Theriault estimated that over 600 cards had been submitted, which is between 50 and 60 percent of graduate student employees.

“We‘re less concerned with the percentage than with making sure we have conversations in every department and have support from everyone so that we can best represent the whole range of issues people have,” Sessions said in an email.

There is no listing of students employed by the University, so the union had to go department by department and reach out to any people they could find. Theriault said that even with that arduous process, they might have missed some graduate student employees, so the University is legally obligated to give the union of list of people along with their contact information, in order to allow the union to talk to the employees before the official unionization vote.

Theriault said they consider the union to have broader goals than securing a raise for its members. It’s about students interests—the bargaining power of the union can be leveraged for other student initiatives, including all-gender bathrooms, or the inclusion of gender identity in the University’s Notice of Non-Discrimination. The union would elect representatives who would negotiate with the University, and then the union’s members would vote on the contract they produce. The union would also have access to lawyers from the United Auto Workers.

“What this union is about is sort of students building a community that can act on its own behalf as grad student workers,” said Peter Berard, GMCAS ’17, a member of the union.

Heights editors Julia Hopkins and Connor Murphy contributed to this report.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

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Chris is the associate news editor for The Heights. He is from Manhattan, N.Y. and can talk about his love for New York City for hours. You can follow him on Twitter @chris_heights.