From a press release:
Graduate employees at Brown University have given official notice to the university of their intent to hold a union election supervised by the American Arbitration Association (AAA) in the fall, setting the stage for formal recognition—and an historic first contract.
A strong majority of Brown’s 1,250 graduate employees have indicated support for their union, Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE), affiliated nationally with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
An election overseen by the AAA will now occur in the coming months to enable teaching and research assistants to bargain a contract with university administrators covering wages, benefits, job security, workplace health and safety, professional development, and other crucial issues. The contract would be among the first negotiated at private colleges in the United States.
Earlier this year, SUGSE negotiated a groundbreaking private agreement with Brown that laid out the path to a fair election and stopped the Trump-dominated National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from using the status of graduate employees to further erode worker rights and voice. While other schools, including the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to quash graduate worker voice, Brown opted to work with, rather than against, their own employees.
Graduate workers at Georgetown University signed a similar agreement and will also hold a union election this fall.
Hilary Rasch, a Brown graduate assistant and third-year Ph.D. candidate in English, said: “In this era of Janus, Donald Trump, and Brett Kavanaugh, we’ve seen extravagant and frightening attempts from those in power to silence women, people of color, queer folks, immigrants and workers. Instead of being intimidated, we’re organizing, because we’ve learned that things won’t change without a genuine power shift in all of our institutions, including higher education. We’re fighting for a vision of the university where ‘shared governance’ actually means shared power, where transparency actually means accountability and accessibility, where teacher and researcher mean worker.”
Kaitlyn Quaranta, a Brown graduate assistant and third-year Ph.D. candidate in French Studies, said: “Grads make this university run. I am the primary instructor for my class that meets four days a week. I am providing an essential service to the university but without a contract that recognizes me as a worker. That needs to change.”
Lubabah Chowdhury, a Brown graduate assistant and third-year Ph.D. candidate in English, said: “I’m organizing because I know way too many people at Brown who are survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and who have performed tireless self advocacy as survivors alone against a system that lets them down. We need a real grievance procedure that delivers survivor-centered justice.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “Graduate employees are organizing not just to improve wages and conditions, but to improve the university by having a real say over the work they do. Workers have organized for years to get to this point—having the deep conversations that foster democracy on campus and improve teaching and learning. We are so proud of the activist organizers that see our union as a vehicle for their voice, and we will support them as they campaign for recognition. And hopefully, when they win their elections, we will assist them as they negotiate contracts to benefit generations of employees and the respective university’s students.
“I also commend the Brown and Georgetown administrations for rejecting the Trump administration’s attacks on workers and choosing the high road of dialogue and decency. Both schools are on the road of long-lasting partnership with the employees who conduct the research, teach the classes and grade the papers that make their schools run, and we trust their commitment to democracy will not falter as the elections draw near.”
The AFT is affiliated with graduate unions organizing at Princeton University, Northwestern University, Cornell University and the University of Chicago, in addition to Brown and Georgetown. The largest United States higher education union, the AFT represents more than 25,000 graduate employee members across 23 institutions in nine states.