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Warren Criticizes University Over Graduate Worker Union

The Boston College Graduate Employees Union (BCGEU-UAW) released a video from Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren endorsing its fight for recognition from the University on Thursday.

In the video—sent to the union earlier this week, according to The Boston Globe—Warren addresses the graduate students directly.

“BC may have a technical right to hide behind the Trump [National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)] by refusing to recognize your union, but make no mistake about it: BC has a moral responsibility to do what’s right,” Warren said in the video. “And that means bargaining with you right now.”

There is currently no legal action pending before the NLRB, as BCGEU-UAW withdrew its petition in February 2018. 

The NLRB is an independent federal agency with the power to enforce U.S. labor law and supervise elections for union representation and collective bargaining rights. Members of the board are appointed to five-year terms by the president.

The University opposes graduate student unionization, which it says undermines the academic relationship between graduate workers and faculty by introducing an employee-employer dynamic.

“Our position remains that graduate student unionization would undermine the collegial, mentoring relationship among faculty and students that is a cornerstone of the BC academic experience,” Associate Vice President of University Communications Jack Dunn said in a statement to The Heights.  “Boston College is committed to upholding this longstanding relationship, which we believe is in our mutual best interest.”

Warren also referenced the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which protects employees’ right to form or join unions and engage in action aimed at improving working conditions. The act binds most private sector employers, including private universities.

“Graduate student workers have the right to organize under federal labor law, and you are right to stand up and demand that Boston College recognize your union and begin bargaining,” Warren said in the video.

Warren’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Heights about the video.

“We have very good relationship with Senator Warren, and understand that as a candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for President, she is eager to attract union supporters,” Dunn said in a later email to The Heights. “But it is important to restate that BC is not opposed to unions. We have enjoyed strong relationships with the two unions representing BC employees for decades.  Our opposition is to unionizing our graduate students, whom we view first and foremost as students, not employees. We also want to reiterate that the BC Graduate Union-UAW voluntarily withdrew its petition to unionize graduate students at Boston College, which resulted in the revocation of its certification to serve as bargaining agent for the grad students.”

The NLRB initially ruled that BC graduate students could hold an election to establish collective bargaining rights in May 2017, which they did in a 270-244 vote in September of that year. The University, however, had appealed the decision prior to the vote and BCGEU-UAW, worried about the nationwide effects of an unfavorable ruling following the election of President Donald Trump, withdrew the petition.

If the NLRB had ruled in favor of the University, the union would have lost its legal right to bargain.

In a letter released shortly after the withdrawal, Vice President for Human Resources David Trainor said that without a legally recognized bargaining agent, there was no legal challenge to the University’s position. Since then, the University has refused to voluntarily bargain with the group.

Warren first endorsed BCGEU-UAW in a tweet last month, joining Vermont Senator and fellow Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who voiced his support in a letter to University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., in November 2017. 

In an email to The Heights, the union said that while Warren’s support for their cause is no surprise, it believes the video represents a recent wave of attention from local public figures.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Boston City Council led by Councilor Lydia Edwards, Senator Bernie Sanders, and now Senator Warren are among the many community supporters who have joined us in calling upon the university to begin a real conversation with our union,” the union said in the statement.

Update (9/6/19 2:15 p.m.): Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn provided an additional statement in an email to The Heights.

Featured Image Courtesy of BCGEU-UAW

September 5, 2019