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BC Files Motion to Delay Grad Student Union Election

Boston College has filed a motion with the National Labor Relations Board to stay the Graduate Employees Union’s election, currently set for Sept. 12 and 13, in which graduate students employees will vote on whether to establish a formal collective bargaining agreement with the University.

The attempt to postpone the vote and have the decision reviewed, announced Monday in an open letter from Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley, follows the NLRB’s May decision to allow the union to hold an election. The election dates were set in early July. Though the NLRB has yet to rule on BC’s request, the election’s status is now uncertain. It is currently unclear how long the NLRB will take to review the request.

“We are disappointed and deeply disturbed by Boston College’s response to our supermajority support to form a union,” organizers wrote in a statement.

Unionization efforts among grad students across the country were given a boost by the NLRB’s August 2016 ruling that students at Columbia University and private universities in general could unionize. BC’s union filed for an election with the NLRB in early March, after which union and University representatives appeared before the NLRB’s regional board to make arguments.

“Our position is that our graduate student research and teaching assistants are best characterized as students—not employees—and that the mentoring relationship to which faculty commit themselves in the scholarly training of graduate students is a partnership that differs from that of university employees or any other workplace association,” Quigley wrote in the letter. “We believe that the collegial relationship between our faculty and their graduate student teaching and research assistants would be irreparably altered by a change in this dynamic, at the expense of future generations of teachers, researchers and scholars.”

In its case before the NLRB, BC also argued that, as a religious institution, it was exempt from the Columbia case because of the Supreme Court’s 1979 ruling in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, which Quigley cited in his letter. That argument did not work when proposed before Boston’s NLRB. BC then argued that its theology and philosophy students should be exempted from participating in the election and the collective bargaining agreement that could result. Per the NLRB’s ruling, graduate student employees in the philosophy department will be eligible to participate in the election and a potential agreement, but students in the theology department and the School of Theology and Ministry will not.

In requesting that the NLRB review its decision at its Washington, D.C. national office, BC joins Harvard as another Boston-area school that has challenged its graduate students’ attempts to formally unionize. Last week, Harvard appealed an NLRB decision that invalidated a unionization election held there last fall, according to The Harvard Crimson.

One reason BC’s union filed for an election this spring is that President Donald Trump’s NLRB appointments may soon put conservatives in the majority on the board, which could lead to a reversal in the Columbia case—to the union’s members, it is a race against time.

Two Democratic appointees and two Republican appointees currently sit on the D.C. NLRB. William Emanuel, a Trump appointee, has been voted out of committee in the U.S. Senate, which will vote as a body on whether to confirm him. Earlier this month, Trump’s other NLRB appointee, Marvin Kaplan, was confirmed by the Senate in a 50-48 vote, with all 48 Democratic-caucusing senators opposing his nomination. Union organizers at Harvard have argued that Harvard is purposely prolonging the conflict with the union in the hopes that Trump’s appointees could reverse the Columbia decision, The Crimson reported.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

August 22, 2017