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Letters to the Editor, Opinions

Letter: Graduate student unionization

Sunday, February 4, 2018

To the Editor:

I write regarding the article of Feb. 2, 2018, “SUGSE fears University stalling talks on grad student unionization,” and to respond to and correct some of the points made in the article.

Since the National Labor Relations Board ruled in August 2016 that graduate students at private colleges and universities who serve as teaching or research assistants are employees with the right to decide whether or not to unionize, the University has been consistent in stating that we would honor the NLRB’s decision. We have remained dedicated to providing a campus environment that fosters open and productive dialogue about graduate education and the potential role and implications of unionization. This is an important decision for graduate students to make, and we want them to be fully informed, guided by factual information and free of intimidation from any and all parties.

We have worked hard to build community here at Brown, and this is our priority. We have seen other campuses polarized by the prospect of unionization, and are deliberate in crafting a different experience for Brown. Regardless of whether or not graduate students at Brown decide to unionize, the University remains committed to the well-being of our students and the strength of our community.

It was in this spirit that, last fall, I reached out to representatives from Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees to explore ways that, together, we could provide a climate that would promote constructive and balanced dialogue on the topic of graduate education and graduate student unionization. I’m grateful that over the course of the fall semester we were able to meet on a number of occasions to make clear our priorities and to explore shared values and areas of agreement that could contribute to an understanding of how we may conduct ourselves prior to and during an election. In December, as our discussions moved to consideration of preparing a written document to memorialize points on which we agreed and to identify areas of disagreement to discuss, the American Federation of Teachers’ general counsel and Brown’s outside counsel advised that they would take the next step and develop a draft. It is important to note that we chose Proksauer Rose as outside counsel specifically because they had experience as counsel to another institution that involved working with the AFT in developing a pre-election agreement. 

It is not unusual for the pace to slow when multiple parties — including outside counsel — are involved. A preliminary document drafted by the AFT did not adequately reflect the principles that I discussed with SUGSE representatives in the fall. I have pressed for another version to be developed quickly so that we could move the process forward, but there was never a specific deadline established for reaching an agreement. In fact, there will be additional steps needed before a pre-election agreement can be accepted. While SUGSE has had a central role in these discussions, the University has an obligation to all graduate students. Throughout our conversations, I have emphasized that any agreement with AFT/SUGSE would require consultation with the Graduate Student Council and others as the University seeks to act in the best interests of all graduate students.

It remains my belief and desire that we can demonstrate on our campus the capacity to reach agreement about the values and conditions that guide a fair, open, organized and transparent election process. However, it is important to note that a pre-election agreement is not necessary for an election to take place, and should not affect any plans by graduate students to pursue the steps necessary toward filing a petition. The University remains committed to the principles we have articulated since the very beginning of this process, and we will continue to work for them, whether or not a formal agreement is reached.

Richard M. Locke P’18


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