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Union Stages ‘Work-In’ at O’Neill, Responds to Criticism from Admin

One day after Vice President for Human Resources David Trainor issued a letter to the student body criticizing recent actions of the Boston College Graduate Employees Union, the union held a previously scheduled work-in at O’Neill Library to showcase its work and to start a dialogue with the University to begin the collective bargaining process.

This was the second work-in that the union has held since it won a vote last September to gain collective bargaining rights with BC. Graduate student employees sat at tables behind the reference desk on the third floor of O’Neill. Each table had signs that said, “I’m working on …” with an empty space detailing the subject matter they were focusing on, such as dissertations or papers the graduate students were grading.

At publication, University Spokesman Jack Dunn had not responded to a request for comment.

In an email last semester, Dunn said, “Our position remains that our graduate students are best characterized as students–not employees–and that the collegial relationship that exists between our faculty and students would be irreparably altered through graduate student unionization. In addition, as a faith-based institution, we assert that Boston College should be exempt from the jurisdiction of the [National Labor Relations Board] in accordance with the 1979 Supreme Court decision NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago.”

Members of the union are holding work-ins to attract attention to its cause, with the goal of showing that they are working employees rather than just students.

“Often it’s hard to see when we’re stuck in our cubes, but this makes it public,” said Michael Bailey, GMCAS ’24. “Here we are: grading, holding office-hours, and so on and so forth.”

The context of the work-in was changed significantly by the University’s letter, sent to the BC community on Wednesday. Union members said they were surprised by the release, based on their attempts to contact University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley.

“They haven’t been talking to us,” said Amelie Daigle, GMCAS ’19. “We’ve been scheduling a daily visit to Leahy and Quigley’s offices to see if they would be willing to discuss the unionization process with us, any of their concerns—they haven’t been speaking to us, so no, we had no idea this was coming. There has been no communication.”

Some members weren’t as surprised by the release of the letter, even though they were surprised by the timing.

“I had been surprised that we hadn’t gotten a reaction from BC since the election,” said Bryn Spielvogel, LGSOE ’20. “They didn’t release any statement about us winning the election or anything like that, so I expected that they would make some acknowledgment before now.”

The primary concerns the letter raised, according to Spielvogel, were the University’s categorization of the union’s work and existence as “disruptive and disrespectful.” She said the work-ins weren’t meant to be disruptive, but rather to show that the union is made up of employees rather than students.

Currently, the union is concentrated on getting BC to begin negotiating.

“Our goal right now is to get the University to recognize us and to bargain with us,” said Bailey. “We have many steps to get there, including work-ins, trying to schedule a meeting with the administration, and so on and so forth. We’re just building towards collective bargaining.”

The union was also frustrated by BC’s argument that its Jesuit status exempts it from the NLRB’s Columbia ruling that graduate student employees at private universities may organize for collective bargaining rights. In the letter, Trainor says, “the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over this matter because of Boston College’s Catholic and Jesuit identity.”

Bailey cited the existence of other unions on campus as a direct conflict to that claim. Unions represent, according to the University’s employee handbook, “building maintenance, switchboard, and Boston College Police Department employees.”

“While I am very disappointed, I’m not shocked that BC made that argument,” said Gage Martin, a first-year Ph.D. student in math.

She also cited her frustrations with the University categorizing the actions and intentions of union as a legal shortcut. Martin said that Fordham University followed Catholic values to recognize a teachers union. She does not believe BC should be approaching the situation any differently.

In terms of priorities for the union, Martin and Spielvogel cited stipend raises, a fair grievance procedure—specifically for reporting sexual harassment complaints—improving health care benefits and solidifying their permanent existence, and having greater control over the work environments of graduate student employees.

While he was frustrated, Bailey did not call the University greedy—he believes BC’s motivations lie elsewhere.

“I think it’s power,” he said. “They don’t want to cede any power to us, because if they recognize the union and engage in collective bargaining, then we have to have a contract that’s legally binding, and therefore they can’t resign their benefits.”

“We’re not going away.”

Featured Image by Jack Goldman / Copy Editor

January 27, 2018