Members of the Boston College Graduate Employees Union (BCGEU) gathered at O’Neill Plaza on Friday and marched to deliver a petition that demanded comprehensive health insurance with no out-of-pocket costs for graduate student workers to University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.
“We are all on the front lines teaching freshmen with little-to-no tangible support from the University,” said Sabina Sullivan, a speaker at the protest and English doctoral student. “It’s compounding harm, and it’s literally pennies on the dollar for them to do the right thing.”
Protest attendees chanted “When we fight, we win” and “Health care is a human right” before three of the protestors dropped off the petition at Leahy’s office—which was signed by over 500 graduate, undergraduate, and faculty members, according to a BCGEU press release from April 5.
Sarah Neville is a fourth-year doctorate student who said that when she started working as a graduate employee in 2018, BC offered the Blue Cross Blue Shield health care plan to its graduate workers.
“I started the program in 2018, and we had Blue Cross and Blue Shield back then, which was alright,” Neville said. “It was perfectly sufficient.”
In 2021, however, Neville said the University changed the health care plan offered to over 1,000 graduate workers.
“In the summer of 2021, all of a sudden, with no notice, our health care was switched to UnitedHealthcare StudentResources,” Neville said. “We had no heads-up, there was no solicitation of our input.”
Neville said the new plan offers significantly fewer benefits and forces graduate student-workers to pay out of pocket for more prescriptions and health care visits than before. Student-workers who had previously been on the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan may have had to switch physicians or find new ways to get their prescriptions as well, she said.
“I had to start all the way back to the beginning and try and figure out how to set [my prescriptions] up,” Neville said.
One of the largest issues student-workers faced as a result of the health care switch was the lack of University support, according to Neville.
“We didn’t have any support for this transition,” Neville said. “We’re just students, so we don’t have an HR office to call for help, we don’t have anyone whose job it is to help us with these stupid systems. They just leave us to the wolves.”
As Neville spoke over a megaphone to a growing crowd, fellow graduate student-workers cheered her on as they prepared to deliver the petition to Leahy.
Lynn Johnson, a professor from the history department, expressed solidarity with graduate student-workers.
“I’ve been coming to these rallies and marches for six or seven years now,” Johnson said. “It’s both frustrating and inspiring. It’s frustrating because BC has been so intransigent. We’ve seen so much back and forth and not a lot of forward movement.”
The union would like the University to engage in productive dialogue and a collective bargaining process, according to the April 5 release.
“Collective bargaining is the process for the BC leadership to engage with the workers who ensure that the university can succeed in its research and teaching mission,” the release reads.
Johnson said she sees a future where progress is made through collective bargaining between the University and the union.
“[They’ve] kept the union going through several cohorts of graduate students, graduate workers,” Johnson said. “It means a lot to me because as a graduate employee, back in the 1980s we didn’t have a union, we didn’t have health care.”