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Union Withdraws NLRB Petition, Demands Direct Bargaining With BC

The Boston College Graduate Employees Union saga entered a new stage Tuesday evening, as Vice President for Human Resources David Trainor issued a letter to the Boston College community explaining that the union had on Feb. 6 withdrawn its petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The union’s decision marks the end of the legal battle between the two entities over entering into collective bargaining, but marks the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between the union and BC.

The union’s petition, which allowed it to win collective bargaining rights with BC through the NLRB, was being challenged by the University, which had appealed the NLRB’s May 2017 decision to grant the union an election. If the NLRB had ruled in favor of BC, the union would have lost its legal right to bargain.

Trainor’s letter explained that in response to the union’s withdrawing its petition to the NLRB, the board revoked the Certification of Representation gained through the union election held last September, through which the group won the right to collectively bargain through the NLRB with the University. This rendered the University’s appeal to review the NLRB’s decision in granting the election—which was still ongoing—moot, since there is no longer a legal effort taking place.

“In the simplest terms, this withdrawal and revocation of certification means that the effort to unionize graduate students by the UAW has concluded and the University’s Request for Review is now moot,” Trainor said. “As of today, there is no action pending before the NLRB related to Boston College and our graduate students and there is no legally certified bargaining representative for graduate students at Boston College.”

Trainor then reiterated the University’s appreciation for the work graduate students at BC do. He has used that language in the past, and gave examples in a previous letter sent on Jan. 24 of specific benefits it gives to graduate students that BC believes is an appropriate recompense for the work of its graduate students. The union believes those benefits are too easily revoked and not supportive enough. In the final paragraph of the letter, Trainor repeated what those benefits are: tuition remission, stipends, and health care for doctoral teaching and research assistants.

In an email sent to members of the union last Thursday, the union’s organizing committee reaffirmed its mission and made it clear that it will continue to ask the University to voluntarily recognize the union, much like Georgetown University is doing with its graduate student union.

The group wrote that the decision to rescind its petition is “an important step in our campaign to engage in collective bargaining with Boston College.” The committee explained that the decision was made because the NLRB could use its jurisdiction to rule against the union.

“In recent weeks, the NLRB has issued decisions that make clear it is a partisan vehicle for limiting workers’ rights,” the organizing committee wrote. “We will not allow Boston College to use an anti-labor NLRB to take away our election and to revoke workers’ rights at religious institutions across the country.”

Following the election of President Donald Trump, conservatives regained control of the majority of seats on the NLRB, undoing a number of labor-friendly standards and opinions that were implemented under former President Barack Obama’s administration. The union feared that the NLRB would have ruled in favor of BC because of the current status of the board.

The organizing committee’s email delved further into Trainor’s previous email. It categorized the administration’s arguments as the following: “(1) that graduate employees should be denied the labor rights of other workers, and (2) that because BC is an institution of Catholic and Jesuit teaching they should be able to sidestep labor laws.”

Prior to the filing of the University’s appeal, the NLRB had a longstanding position that private university graduate students are not employees, but students, making them ineligible for union representation under federal law. This changed with a 2016 decision in a case involving Columbia University, in which the NLRB ruled that graduate student workers at private universities were employees and therefore could unionize to gain collective bargaining rights.

The union expressed its commitment to fighting for graduate employees’ rights at BC.

“Our position here at Boston College does not depend on a petition or any other formal legal procedure,” the organizing committee said. “We continue to demand that Boston College respect our vote and do what is both morally and democratically correct: bargain with our union.”

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Photo Editor

February 13, 2018