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University News

Graduate Labor Organization elects first executive board

Formerly Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees, newly ratified union GLO elects 14 board members

By
University News Editor
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Updated 10:10 p.m., Nov. 23, 2020 

The Graduate Labor Organization, Brown’s graduate student union, announced the election of its first 14-member executive board Nov. 8.

Only the elections for GLO President and for GLO Coordinator for Social Justice and Accountability were contested. All uncontested candidates assumed the office they ran for by acclamation. 

Rithika Ramamurthy GS defeated Lubabah Chowdhury GS in the race for the position of president by a margin of 190 votes to 100 votes, according to an email from GLO to graduate students. In the race for Coordinator for Social Justice and Accountability, Jared Loggins GS won with 173 votes to the 114 votes of competitor Melody Chapin GS.

GLO, formerly Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees, decided to change its name when ratifying its constitution after successfully bargaining for a contract with the University last summer. 

United States law requires unions at private institutions to conduct their elections either in-person or by mail. In its constitution, GLO stipulated that all elections will be held by mail, with a provision that they would move online should they be able to do so legally, Jeffrey Feldman GS, a GLO election observer, said. 

The need for mail-in voting was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which created safety concerns about in-person voting and prevented some graduate students from returning to the University this semester, Feldman added. 

The election was overseen by a five-member election committee. This committee drafted the ballots, disseminated information about the election and tallied the ballots, Feldman said. GLO also received funding from the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, GLO’s state-level union affiliate, to mail ballots with prepaid postage to graduate students, he added. 

Ballots were first mailed to graduate students on Oct. 6, and GLO was “in touch with members from that point on” to resolve any voting issues, Feldman said. Ballots had to be postmarked by Oct. 29. The count was carried out by three Elections Committee members on Nov. 7, with two observers, including Feldman.

Ramthurthy, GLO’s new president, looks ahead 

Ramamurthy ran on a slate that included “13 other people who share what we see as a collective vision to strengthen the union.” All 14 members of the slate shared a website and a platform, Ramamurthy said, and all 14 eventually won their races. “I don’t understand any of my work in the union as individual, so I couldn’t really imagine running an individual campaign,” she added.

Ramamurthy said she sees her role as president “as a responsibility to represent a commitment to collectivity in the labor movement.” She will be meeting with the presidents of other unions in the coming days and weeks to discuss how they best serve their unions, she said. Ramamurthy will hold the position of president until the spring of 2022.

Ramamurthy highlighted increasing union membership among graduate students as one of her top priorities. “The only way unions have power is through an active membership,” she said. “One of our goals is to get membership to the level of a supermajority (of graduate students) by the end of the school year.”

Graduate unionization at private universities is rare in the United States, and it is more common at public universities. Brown’s unionization effort has already been a touchstone for other graduate labor activists, Ramamurthy said. Labor movements run on solidarity, she added. “I don’t think any of our wins would have been possible without the example and guidance of comrades at other unions, and I don’t think future unions will be successful without taking what they can from our struggle.”

“Joining the union and being an active member was always in my sights,” Ramamurthy said, but she did not imagine, at the outset of her involvement, that she would become the president of Brown’s graduate student union. Ramamurthy ended up in the role because “someone organized me into doing it,” she said. “People step up into union leadership and decide to get engage because they look around … and realize that things are very unfair, and someone tells you ‘you know, it can be different?’”

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