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Graduate students march to pressure Brown University to final agreement on contact

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“You may have noticed that we are gathered here today with pots and pans,” said Melody, a fourth year music student. “Why is that? This is called a cacerolazo. It’s a protest tactic from Latin America. It’s typically working class. The idea is that you take what you have in the house and you get out onto the streets and you make some noise.”


Over 100 graduate students and allies marched this Tuesday with Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE), the union of graduate-student workers at Brown University. SUGSE began the march at noon, moving from the Van Winkle Gates of Brown University to 225 Dyer Street where bargaining negotiations for a union contract were held with the Brown administration. The march sought to pressure the Brown administration to come to final agreements in what has been just under a year of negotiations with SUGSE’s bargaining committee.

“You may have noticed that we are gathered here today with pots and pans,” said Melody, a fourth year music student. “Why is that? This is called a cacerolazo. It’s a protest tactic from Latin America. It’s typically working class. The idea is that you take what you have in the house and you get out onto the streets and you make some noise.”

The cacerolazo is not only about making noise. Melody said that the action is also “to join in solidarity with the rest of the world and especially with Latin America, in solidaridad with all of the union and social justice organizers who have employed the cacerolazo before us, and for the right for all careers and all lives to be viewed as dignified and worthy of protection – we’re joining Chile, we’re joining Puerto Rico, we’re joining Montreal – and so many other places in the world for the larger fight for equality today.”

SUGSE is a union of graduate student employees who provide valuable labor to Brown in classrooms, laboratories, and libraries. Founded in 2014 to advocate for graduate-student workers, SUGSE’s accomplishments include fighting to save sixth-year funding and winning dental insurance for all graduate-student workers. Members are made up of the many departments and schools within the university.

The graduate student union began negotiating its first union contract with Brown last year in April. Brown’s administration has since refused to accept SUGSE’s proposals on health benefits, which included adding a vision plan, affordable coverage for dependents, and improving the current dental plan. In addition, no concessions were made regarding SUGSE’s request for a stipend raise. Most crucially, the administration refused to ensure protections against Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is expected to overturn an Obama-era ruling that recognizes graduate students as workers.


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Some tentative agreements have been made between SUGSE’s bargaining committee and Brown, including more control over class sizes, limits on work hours, and additional protections for victims of harassment and discrimination. No part of the contract, however, can go into effect until both parties reach agreements on all aspects of the current proposal. The Tuesday cacerolazo will mark the first rally of a larger pressure campaign which demands that administration reach a fair and timely agreement with the union’s bargaining committee.

More video from the event:

Frank Flynn from the American Federation of Teachers

[From a press release and original reporting]


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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade. atomicsteve@gmail.com