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Graduate teaching and research assistants at Brown vote to unionize

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After a four-day secret ballot election that culminated on Monday, Nov. 19, eligible Brown University graduate students in research and teaching positions have voted in favor of union representation.

The American Arbitration Association (AAA), which managed the election, tallied the results and reported that by a majority count of 576 to 394, eligible graduate students voted to unionize. Per standard election procedures established by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the AAA’s certification of the results will be finalized after all valid absentee ballots are counted and any objections made by the parties are resolved.

Upon certification of that outcome, Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) will represent approximately 900 doctoral and master’s students enrolled in the Graduate School at Brown who are currently engaged as teaching assistants, research assistants or proctors.

Per the terms of a June 2018 pre-election agreement, Brown and SUGSE/AFT will then begin discussions toward a collective bargaining agreement, negotiating on matters of wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment for the members of the bargaining unit. The University will send formal notice of its recognition of the union to the National Labor Relations Board.

Brown Provost Richard M Locke said advancing a climate that supports the free exchange of ideas on unionization has been the University’s priority since a 2016 NLRB decision granted graduate teaching and research assistants at private colleges and universities the right to decide whether or not to unionize.


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“The University’s commitment throughout this process has been to minimize polarization, maintain a cohesive community and ensure that eligible graduate assistants could decide for themselves whether or not to unionize,” Locke said. “I’m pleased that we were able to provide a fair and orderly process, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate closely with graduate students to enhance graduate education at Brown.”

Graduate School Dean Andrew G Campbell said that in working with the union and its members in the semesters to come, Brown expects to build upon a strong track record strengthening resources for graduate students, refining advising and mentoring programs, increasing financial support and improving the ways in which students can successfully balance academic and personal lives.

“The Graduate School will continue to ensure that graduate students from all disciplines and all backgrounds are provided with the platform and freedom to express their views, to participate in the governance of their education, and to advocate for the resources dedicated to furthering their scholarly pursuits,” Campbell said.

Alastair Tulloch, a doctoral student in neuroscience who is president of the Graduate Student Council, said he expects the students’ vote to unionize to build on Brown’s model of shared governance.

“The collectively bargained contract that graduate students and the University agree upon will further enhance and stabilize life as graduate students at Brown…” Tulloch said. “I hope to see the relationship between Brown’s leadership and graduate students strengthen further. Shared governance is a staple at Brown, and I hope to see it flourish even more with a union addressing the labor issues of all graduate students.”

Locke said that the pre-election agreement, a recent memorandum of understanding that amended the agreement to allow for absentee ballots, and the choice to have the AAA manage the election reflect a commitment at Brown to avoiding the polarization and divisiveness that the potential for graduate student unionization has prompted on some campuses.

As part of its work to ensure that all eligible voters were fully informed on both the election process and on the issues at stake in the unionization decision, Brown created a “Be Informed” website with complete details. The University also convened an open forum on Nov. 9 for all interested graduate students to share information and answer questions before the vote took place.
[From a press release]