Grad Employees Organize at ‘March Against Injustice’

The Boston College Graduate Employees Union organized a “March Against Injustice” Friday afternoon intended to urge the University to recognize the union and enter voluntarily into a bargaining process.

Beginning in Lower Campus and culminating on the Quad, the march was silent, and included approximately 100 graduate students, undergraduates, and professors. Union leaders gave out maroon union-themed t-shirts, creating a long line of maroon through campus. Signs were passed out with slogans such as “Where is Leahy?” and “Working together for a just BC.”

Once the march had reached the Quad, Bryn Spielvogel, LGSOE ’20, addressed the crowd, and talked about the struggles of graduate employees.

“Raise your hand if you’re a grad worker and you pay over 30 percent of your stipend on rent, or have to commute in because it’s too expensive to live around here …” Spielvogel said. “Raise your hand if you have skipped going to the dentist or the eye doctor at all during grad school because you could not afford to go …  So raise your hand if you have TA’d or taught a class and you have not received instruction on mandatory reporting. So who here thinks that BC is doing everything they can to support and value grad workers?”

According to Spielvogel, members of the union have visited the offices of University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley every day to speak about the union vote and graduate student issues, and both have been unable to meet with union members. The only responses, according to Spielvogel, have been requests to stop visiting their offices as they were no longer legally required to recognize the union.

“So the evidence suggests to me that Boston College does not respect graduate student voices, regardless of legal proceedings, that they are relying only on a legal requirement to recognize the union, when really they have an ethical requirement to do so as well,” Spielvogel said.

The march comes after months of the union staging “work-ins” and demonstrations, in addition to making daily visits to the offices of Leahy and Quigley—all of which has garnered no public intention from the University to bargain. In September, the union won its bid with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to establish collective bargaining rights with the University, but BC made filed an appeal with the NLRB to invalidate the election. Later in February, the union decided to drop its petition with the NLRB, demanding direct bargaining with the University—BC said shortly after that it wouldn’t voluntarily bargain, closing the door, from the University’s perspective, on recognizing the union.

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, rendering 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 and that the Columbia case was wrongly decided, Vice President for Human Resources David Trainor said in a letter written in January. He said that BC values the work and contributions that graduate students make to the University, citing tax-free tuition remission, competitive stipends, and health insurance coverage fully paid for by BC as examples of their appreciation.

“The United Auto Workers’ (UAW) withdrawal of its petition to the [National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)] means that the UAW is no longer the exclusive bargaining agent for graduate students at Boston College and there is no action pending before the NLRB,” Trainor said in an email in February. “Because of this decision, the election held in September is moot. As a result, there is no legal basis to require the University to grant the graduate students’ request to bargain and, given our firm position on the matter, no intention on the University’s behalf to do so voluntarily.”

In March, the Graduate Employees Union, as part of the United Auto Workers, joined a national organization aimed at gaining collective bargaining rights for graduate student workers.

Friday’s march occurred in the midst of a number of notable events for other unions across the country.

Locally, Harvard University’s teaching and research assistants voted to form a union in an election held April 18 and 19 through the National Labor Relations Board. As a result of the election, they gained the ability to collectively bargain with Harvard. At Columbia, hundreds of teaching and research assistants went on strike on Tuesday following more than a year of attempting to get the university to negotiate. The university announced in January that it would not negotiate with the union, instead moving to plead its case to a federal court of appeals.

Featured Image by Katie Genirs / Asst. Photo Editor