Graduate students and representatives from the administration are entering their eighth month of contract negotiations, according to an email to the Justice from Eric Chasalow, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. 

The parties reached a Tentative Agreement on 15 articles, or roughly half the contract, as of May 2. Compensation, benefits and paid leave have not yet been agreed upon, Dominick Knowles, a graduate student involved in the negotiations, explained in an email to the Justice.

The process will continue through the summer, but the pace of these talks is “not unusual,” according to Chasalow, who wrote in the same email that the negotiations for adjunct faculty contracts lasted 12 months and were considered “expeditious.”

“Parties in negotiation share many common goals and we are having very productive talks,” Chasalow added.

There are over 200 graduate students involved in the Union, which is a branch of Services Employees International Union Local 509. These students include teaching assistants, PhD candidates, teaching fellows and other graduate students who hold teaching positions. 

One of the students’ primary goals is to receive fair compensation, Knowles explained in an interview with the Justice. Humanities students do not receive summer funding, and while many take up additional jobs throughout the year, financial security is not assured.

In a letter to the Justice, Sasha Albert, a PhD candidate at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, wrote, “Even while working, I spend half my monthly stipend on rent alone. My colleagues face similar challenges – they work long hours for low pay, go without seeing the dentist, and struggle to afford things like transportation and childcare.”

The Brandeis Labor Coalition has been actively involved in campaigning on the graduate students’ behalf. They coordinated with the Union to hold a march on May 1, encouraging participants to wear orange to “show the administration that a fair contract for graduate workers matters to the entire Brandeis community,” according to the Facebook page for the event.

In an interview with the Justice, BLC member Phoebe Dolan ’20 explained that graduate student working conditions are “our learning conditions.”

The BLC also shared a Google Form that asked for undergraduate student feedback, recording responses anonymously. They received over two dozen responses and delivered them to the administration during the May 1 rally.

“Every week the graduate students welcomed me and helped me navigate the new expectations of college life and learning. … It is incredibly important that graduate students are supported by the university. If they are not provided the resources that they need, then I, as a student, will not have the learning environment that will best benefit me,” one of the responses, shared with the Justice by Dolan, read.

During admitted students day, members of the BLC worked with graduate students to gather signatures from prospective students and parents in support of the union efforts. Knowles praised the undergraduate students he worked with. “We wouldn’t be half as successful if it wasn’t for the BLC. … They were so incredible; I cannot speak highly enough of their efforts. They were relentless.” The group received over 100 signatures in under two hours, and they campaigned from 7:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. that day.

“Their support speaks to a larger codependency of the graduate and undergraduate students,” Knowles commented. “We form bonds that are more intimate than between a student and professor.”