Vice President for Human Resources David Trainor issued a letter Wednesday to the Boston College community providing an update on the status of the Graduate Employees Union organizing process. Trainor outlined the history of the union and explained the University’s legal opposition to it.
The union won a bid with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to establish collective bargaining rights with the University last September. In August, BC filed an appeal with the NLRB in Washington D.C., to stay the election. That effort to stay the election failed, but the appeal is still pending. Trainor’s letter also objected to the union’s efforts to bargain with the University while the appeal is pending, and that “the union persists with its campaign of disruptive and disrespectful conduct that too often interferes with the rights of others in our community.”
Graduate students involved in the union said the University appears to be unjustly attacking the bid with the NLRB that they legally won.
“Legally, the University has the right to appeal the election,” said Amelie Daigle, GMCAS ’19. “But that absolutely does not make it the ‘right thing to do.’”
Victoria Gabriele, a second year Ph.D student in physics, said that BC administrators refuse to meet with the union, which she said highlights the reason that graduate students want one.
Prior to the filing of the University’s appeal, the NLRB had a longstanding position that private university graduate students are not employees, but students, making them ineligible for union representation under federal law. This changed with a 2016 decision in a case involving Columbia University in which the NLRB reversed its position.
The University believes that no unionization action should be taking place, that the Columbia case was wrongly decided, and that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over the matter because of BC’s Catholic and Jesuit identity, Trainor said in his letter.
“As a faith-based institution, the idea that the NLRB can determine which components of our academic enterprise are religious and which are secular is a gross misunderstanding of our mission and ignores the direct role graduate research and teaching assistants play in the formation of students,” he said.
Contradicting BC, the union cites that Fordham University, a Jesuit institution, supports unionization, showing that BC should not be compelled by its religious values.
“Fordham recently agreed to respect the rights of adjunct faculty to choose unionization, in honor of Jesuit values and Catholic social justice teachings,” said Gage Martin, a first year Ph.D student in Math. “Boston College should do the same and respect our majority vote for unionization.”
Trainor said that BC is following the legal procedures established by the NLRB to invalidate the vote. He said that the union is behaving inappropriately by calling for BC to bargain with it when the legal status of graduate students is still under review.
Regardless of the University’s disapproval of union, Trainor expressed that BC values the contributions that graduate students make to the community. He cited tax-free tuition remission, competitive stipends, and health insurance coverage fully paid by BC provided for doctoral students as examples of BC’s appreciation for graduate students.
The union does not necessarily interpret these actions as symbols of gratitude. According to Daigle, the University has complete control over the stipends and insurance of graduate students, and can change them as they wish. She also said that BC took away tuition remission and health care benefits for GMCAS students who were teaching assistants in early 2015.
“A union and a collectively bargained contract will give us a voice in these decisions,” Daigle said. “In addition to improving our stipends and health insurance packages, a union would be able to advocate for many additional benefits including securing a parental leave policy for all graduate workers, creating a fair and effective grievance process, and strengthening protections against sexual harassment.”
Members of the union have staged a number of rallies in the past few months to call upon the University to drop its appeal to the NLRB, including a “work-in” at Hillside Cafe, a silent protest while University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., spoke at the annual Christmas tree-lighting, a gathering on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s election, and a rally by students and faculty in October. According to a Facebook post from the union, members also visited the offices of University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., and Dean of Faculties David Quigley to start a conversation about recognizing the union and bargaining a contract.
“The University’s stance is grounded in the claim that we are not employees—that the contributions we make to the university don’t amount to ‘work’ and therefore we aren’t entitled to the same legal protections as other workers,” said Bryn Spielvogel, GLSOE ’20. “There is no legal or moral basis for that argument, which is why six other universities have chosen to respect graduate workers’ choice for unionization.
“To deny our right to organize and advocate for ourselves on the grounds that an appeal is currently in progress is absurd, and it locks many of us into low pay and unstable benefits with no legal recourse.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Photo Editor