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Monday, July 24, 2017




Grad students vote in majority for labor union




Brandeis graduate students secured the first graduate student unionization at a Boston-area private institution on May 2.

According to an article published by the Service Employees International Union Local 509 on May 2, “Graduate students at Brandeis University have overwhelmingly voted to form a union, deciding by a two to one margin to join SEIU Local 509.”

According to its website, SEIU Local 509 is a chapter representing 20,000 service workers and educators across Massachusetts. Its mission is “to raise living standards for working families while improving the quality and affordability of the services we provide.”

This vote followed an August 2016 declaration by the National Labor Relations Board stating that graduate students in teaching positions at private universities can legally vote to be represented by a union.

In April 2017, University President Ronald Liebowitz wrote an open letter to graduate students and faculty, outlining three main reasons in opposition of graduate student unionization. He asserted that unionization would interfere with “individualized graduate student academic programs,” produce a strict “employer/employee relationship between faculty and students” and compromise the “shared governance model” between the University and its graduate students.

“There is no merit to President Liebowitz’s claims,” Diana Filar, a Ph.D. student, was quoted in a May 2 Justice article as saying. “Other schools ... offer proof and testimony against the false claim that somehow unionizing would change the individualized programs or collaboration. In fact, unionizing is based on collaboration and the joining together of voices from across department[s] — something that hasn’t happened very much until some of these unionizing conversations began to happen.”

The Justice article from May 2 quoted several graduate students who disagreed with Liebowitz’s ideas. Among these students was Benjamin Kreider, a Ph.D. candidate from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Kreider was quoted by the Justice as saying, “A union would give me a voice — a seat at the table … Currently, graduate students have virtually no voice on this campus. Although we have a Graduate Student Association — and I applaud the work they do — graduate students do not have any formal power. Many decisions are made regarding pay, benefits, transparency, career development and other issues, almost unilaterally.”

After the vote for graduate student unionization, however, this may no longer hold true. Now, with a union to represent them, Filar, Kreider and future graduate students at Brandeis University assert they will have a say in University policies that affect them.

“Given the role that graduate student workers play in teaching at Brandeis, we deserve a seat at the table,” the SEIU press release quoted Filar as saying. “Today’s vote to form a union opens the door to negotiations with the administration to ensure that it focuses on our professional development and training as educators.”

According to an SEIU article, sixteen days after the Brandeis vote, Tufts graduate students also voted to join SEIU Local 509. Tufts now represents the second successful graduate student unionization in the greater Boston area.


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