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Union Members Optimistic Heading Into NLRB Vote

On Tuesday and Wednesday, eligible graduate student employees at Boston College will vote on whether to establish a formal collective bargaining agreement with the University. The National Labor Relations Board officially ruled on May 17 that the BC’s Graduate Employees Union – United Auto Workers (BCGEU-UAW) can hold the election.

After three years of trying to unionize, and despite the University’s attempt to stay the election, the vote is still set for this Tuesday and Wednesday in McElroy Commons from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and again from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. To formally unionize, a simple majority of eligible graduate students needs to vote in favor of unionization.

Graduate student employees, excluding graduate students in the theology department and the School of Theology and Ministry, are eligible to vote.

In the run-up, members of the BCGEU-UAW have been busy phone-banking and text-banking to spread the word about the election.

“I’m here giving up my Sunday doing phone calls and trying to talk to people about why voting ‘yes’ for the union is what grad students need to do right now,” Andrew Donnelly, BC ’10, said yesterday.

Donnelly is now a graduate student at Harvard University. While not part of BC’s graduate student union, Donnelly, upset with Harvard’s attempts to block its graduate students from unionizing, dedicated his Sunday afternoon to helping BC grad students spread the word about the election.

“I saw the anti-union messaging coming from the University, which, as an alumnus of the University, is ridiculous and abhorrent to me because it is totally contrary to the Jesuit values that were taught to me when I was here as an undergraduate,” Donnelly said.

Two of BC’s faculty groups, Faculty for Justice and the BC chapter of the American Association of University Professors have publicly supported the grad students’ efforts to unionize.

This weekend, BCGEU-UAW has also been confronting arguments from an anti-union student group, the Concerned BC Grad Students. The group first surfaced last Wednesday, sending an email to BCGEU-UAW with its criticisms, and has put up flyers around the University. The group has made a website featuring anonymous student letters of concern, most of which appear to have been posted on Friday. BCGEU-UAW does not know who is behind the group.

Among the points outlined in the group’s “Grand Purpose,” is that BC graduate students “are primarily not workers, but rather scholars.” This echos the open letter from Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley published on Aug. 21.

The Concerned BC Grad Students website also argues that the University has goals and functions that are very different from most companies, that the distinction between religious and secular graduate students is separating BC from itself, and that unionization assumes that graduate students’ interests oppose the administration’s interests.

The group—which Caliesha Comley, a sociology Ph.D. candidate and BCGEU-UAW member, thinks is an individual—has three main accusations against the UAW: that the BCGEU-UAW has not hosted a public debate, that the group sends “secret emails,” and that there is an illegitimate voting process.

Comley said that the BCGEU-UAW is not required to hold a public debate, but said the three-year effort to unionize has been a very public one, and the organization had hosted a public graduate worker forum last Tuesday where anyone could have asked questions to a panel.

Comley was unsure what the accusation of “secret emails” meant, but explained that the University is required to compile a listserv of eligible graduate students and BCGEU-UAW has used the listserv to spread information about the election process. Regarding the claim that the UAW has an illegitimate voting process, Comley said that the election rules are set by the NLRB.

“I’m very optimistic,” Comley said. “This has been a long time coming. After three years of organizing I think we’re ready to win, and I think we’re positioned well to do so. I’m looking forward to counting the votes on Wednesday, and moving forward with our union after that.”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

September 10, 2017