Members of the Boston College Graduate Employees Union (BCGEU) gathered on the lawn outside of St. Ignatius, hoisting signs plastered with phrases including “remind BC workers rights are Catholic values” and “BC works hard because graduate students do.”
“Graduate students have as much teaching responsibility as full research professors, and yet, we’re not paid a living wage,” one organizer of the rally said.
Graduate employee unions from neighboring schools joined BCGEU for the rally right before the Friday BC football game against Duke. Crowds of drunken students and gamewatchers passed as protestors demanded BC recognize their union and negotiate a contract to guarantee better working conditions.
“Five years ago, we exercised our constitutional rights to form this union,” Hannah Clay, a graduate student in the English department, said. “Since then we have consistently reached out to Father Leahy [and administration] … to initiate a bargaining process, but they have refused to speak with us. They deny that we are workers even though we are what makes BC run.”
Protestors shared why they joined their respective unions. For many of them, their paychecks were simply not enough to avoid “living in poverty.”
“When I started my master’s program in the history department at this university, I was only making a little over $20,000 back then teaching, and it’s just not enough to pay rent and the bills,” Mikayla Vu, an organizer of BCGEU and UAW Region 9a Servicing representative, said.
Max German, a member of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations who spoke at the event, said he was shocked when he discovered just how little graduate employees made at BC.
“I found out what you all get paid, and it’s disgraceful,” German said. “I don’t [know] why—it’s sick why it’s so controversial that you should get a living wage, and a union gives that to you. What we’re doing here today matters.”
The graduate employees union has made many accomplishments over the past few years, according to Clay. The union has pressured BC to backtrack its plans to cut student health care, developed a mutual aid network, and organized against a proposed tax on graduate student stipends.
“We have continued to speak for justice on this campus, but we still have work to do,” Clay said.
After years of frustration of not being recognized by the University, the protestors said they want a seat at the bargaining table.
“How do we get them to come to the table after all this silence? We make them,” Rosie Yaki, a rally attendee, said. “We show them our power in numbers—in solidarity.”
Najifa Tanjeem, officer at University of Massachusetts Lowell Graduate Employee Organization, offered words of resistance and solidarity to encourage the crowd further. She turned toward well-known figures such as Noam Chomsky and Karl Marx in her speech.
“‘There is light at the end of the tunnel even though the tunnel is long, exhausting, brutal, and gruesome. There is hope,’” Tanjeem quoted. “And as once Karl Marx said, ‘Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.’”
After hearing Tanjeem speak, the crowd of protestors began chanting, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Zachary Bos, vice president of UAW Local 2324 at Boston University, said BC’s failure to recognize the BCGEU goes against its Catholic values.
“I even have an endorsing document—I did my research,” Bos said. “It’s the pastoral letter on Catholic social teaching in the U.S. economy. From the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I quote, ‘The church fully supports the right of workers to form unions, wages, and working conditions.’”
Another attendee named Zachary, a third-year graduate student in the math department, said BC does not acknowledge the union because of its privilege as a religious institution.
“The University is used to acting unilaterally— they hide behind the privilege that they have as a semi-religious institution,” he said. “They use essentially what are supposed to be protections of religious freedom to squash the freedom of workers.”
Other protestors shared their frustrations with BC for not acknowledging the union and what it is trying to accomplish, saying these frustrations provoked them to take a stand.
“It’s just not fair to be here [and] to be giving so much to this university and for them to sort of kick back in their ivory tower and just completely ignore us,” an attendee said.
According to German, the Union has proven time and time again that it has strength in numbers and resilience, and it does not plan on stopping anytime soon.
“There’s BC with all its money and its resources,” German said. “[But] I believe that we have the more important and most powerful force in the world—that’s each other.”