We are happy to celebrate another year of challenging work as teaching assistants, research assistants, and scholars. We’ve built a support network among graduate students across the university and have signed up a large part of the graduate student body as supporters. As we continue to push forward, let’s reflect on a few successes, accomplishments, and moments of progress:
- This year has been particularly exciting for graduate student workers at Northeastern as we have made huge progress in building a graduate student union for all of us. We are joining our colleagues who are organizing unions at at Harvard, Boston College, Tufts, Brandeis, Boston University, and many other universities across the nation.
- One of the first major breakthroughs for graduate student workers at Northeastern this academic year was the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) ruling that graduate students at private universities are workers in addition to our role as students. This ruling gave us the power to begin organizing a union, and has sparked a national movement of graduate worker union campaigns. This year, graduate workers at Columbia, American University, Yale, and Brandeis won their votes to form unions, and are starting to negotiate their first contracts.
- Graduate workers from every department on campus have shown their support for building a union together. With diverse interests and concerns, a union will help us fight for a fair contract to guarantee our wages and benefits so we can focus on our research and teaching. We have been humbled and amazed by the positive response from nearly everyone we have spoken to, and inspired by the folks that have put in hours a day building our union.
- We received wonderful letters of support from the Northeastern Adjunct Faculty Union and Boston College Graduate Employees Union in response to Northeastern administration’s threatening and misleading emails that cautioned against unionizing.
- When the university was slow to respond to the threat to students from the seven Muslim-majority countries included in the Trump administration’s travel ban, campus solidarity was on full display. Graduate workers under the banner of GENU-UAW were present at the campus pro-immigration rally to show that international students are integral parts of the Northeastern graduate community. Despite the administration’s combative response, the travel ban is a union issue.
- We organized a strong and vocal contingent for the March for Science in Boston. With cultural, political, and financial threats to scientific thought, a unionized workplace can secure funding in times of grant instability and fight for protections of research on the federal level.
What we have learned
As graduate student workers, we face incredible challenges with little space for recourse. Graduate students from across the university have shared stories of their hours being cut, promised summer funding that never materialized, abusive advisors, inaccessible and unaffordable childcare, unresponsive administrators, lack of research materials and space, and more. These stories have come from every college at Northeastern and reflect the precarious nature of our positions on campus, despite our essential contributions to the functioning of the university.
The benefits of having a union are real and are not speculation. Graduate student unions at New York University, UMass, UConn, University of California, and dozens of others, have all won unprecedented guarantees for stipends and raises, better healthcare, workload protections, and strong grievance procedures. No graduate union contract has ever resulted in wages going down!
The administration continues to incorrectly suggest that the union would distract us from our academics. But any good theory is backed up by data, and they have none. There is, however, research that having a union actually improves the graduate experience, as a recent study at Cornell University argues: “Union-represented graduate student employees report higher levels of personal and professional support, unionized graduate student employees fare better on pay, and unionized and nonunionized students report similar perceptions of academic freedom.”
While the university will continue to attempt to divide us, graduate students will push forward. By joining together across labs, offices, and disciplines, graduate workers standing together have the power to fight for the resources and respect we deserve.
While graduate students have very few free minutes of the day, we want to thank everyone for their hard work organizing this year!
Graduate workers enable and support the high-quality research and teaching at this university—our union is here, and we will strive forward!
GENU-UAW Organizing Committee
May 1, 2017