Brown University graduate employees sign landmark union agreement with administration

The labor union for graduate employees at Brown University, Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE), signed an agreement today with the university for a free and fair union election for 1,400 graduate teaching and research assistants on campus.

The pact – among the first of its kind – creates formal procedures, voter eligibility guidelines and a dispute resolution mechanism to help guide the election and the collective bargaining process. The American Arbitration Association will oversee the union vote, expected to take place in the fall.

A strong majority of Brown graduate workers, including master’s students, have pledged their support for SUGSE, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.

The agreement operates outside the scope of the Trump Administration‘s National Labor Relations Board. It comes after graduate workers at Georgetown University inked a similar agreement with their administration in April. If SUGSE wins the election, the union will negotiate one of the first collective bargaining agreements for graduate employees at a private university in the United States.

“This pre-election agreement is a win not only for grad workers at Brown, but across the country,” said Lubabah Chowdhury, a third-year teaching assistant in English, “Grad workers at Brown have shown that student activism and organizing can and does effect real change. I am excited to vote for a union that will protect all graduate students from sexist and racist harassment and discrimination, and from exploitative working conditions, and will empower us to fight for urgent and necessary changes in higher education.”

“This agreement shows that even at a time when institutional protections for employees in general, and for marginalized groups in particular, are being rolled back at an unprecedented pace, communities can come together and work toward giving their members a more prominent role through a respectful and democratic process,” said Babak Hemmatian, a fourth-year teaching assistant in cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences.

“This agreement is a powerful reminder that higher education workers across the country hold the keys to making our universities work,” said Marley Vincent-Lindsey, a fourth-year graduate assistant in History, said. “We look forward to turning our majority support on cards at Brown into a successful election for collective bargaining. At a time when the value of higher education is continually reduced at the hands of austerity, I am excited that this agreement continues to advance our expectations of university administrators as our employers.”

“Over thousands of hours of organizing, we have talked with hundreds of graduate workers about our collective needs and priorities,” said Dennis Hogan, a fourth-year graduate assistant in Comparative Literature. “We want a voice in our workplace and our departments. We want a fair grievance procedure, adequate family leave policies, increased support for international graduate students, and an end to sexual assault and harassment. We want an increased institutional commitment to supporting graduate students from marginalized backgrounds. We want fair wages and benefits. This agreement gives us a path to an election that will enable the union that we are building to fight for these priorities and more.”

[From a press release]

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