“Solidarity forever, solidarity forever, solidarity forever, the Union makes us strong,” graduate students sang in support of unionization at the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center.
Grad students and community members participated in a rally midday Thursday, many donning blue “Union Strong” T-shirts. They arrived at the steps of Faunce after marching from Blueno, repeating “we work, Brown works” and other chants all the way.
The march and rally were a response to a proposed rule from the National Labor Relations Board that would allow private universities to not recognize graduate student unions, including the one University graduate students voted to form last November. The union, run by Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees, and the University are currently in negotiations toward a collective bargaining agreement, which the proposed rule could threaten.
The University expects “to continue to negotiate with the union in good faith,” wrote Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development, in an email to The Herald.
Providence City Councilwoman Rachel Miller spoke briefly at the rally. “The work you are doing, the fight you are having — the whole country is watching,” Miller said. “We are all fighting the (Trump) administration in all the ways that we can, and your fight for your contract is a big part of that.”
Several graduate students also gave speeches through a megaphone, including Rithika Ramamurthy GS, SUGSE’s bargaining committee co-chair.
“The NLRB says that we are students, not workers; we are takers, not givers; we are learners, not educators. I know, you know, and they definitely know, that this is absolute fucking nonsense,” Ramamurthy said, prompting an outburt of cheers.
Julie Skarha GS, a graduate student in the department of epidemiology who first arrived at the University for a master’s degree, also discussed her grad student experience during the rally. As a master’s student working as a research assistant, Skarha said that she completed similar work as PhD students, but was paid less than half of their wages, “had to pay tuition and didn’t get healthcare.”
Some attendees also filled out note cards where they described the importance of graduate labor to the University. SUGSE will send these cards to the NLRB, which must respond to all of them before it can make a decision on the proposed rule.
Undergraduates and faculty members can also submit comments and complaints to the NLRB, Ramamurthy said. “We’re hoping that the University community will rally around us. … This is a crucial moment for people to support part of the labor movement that actually affects us.”
After the rally dispersed, Babak Hemmatian GS, a fifth-year PhD candidate in the department of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, told The Herald that he came to the rally because “the NLRB says that we aren’t workers … but this is my livelihood.”
Liam O’Connell GS, a fifth-year graduate student in the department of molecular biology, also criticized the NLRB proposal. “This ruling is completely unfair. … It’s part of a pattern from this (Trump) administration that is intensely anti-labor. This is our way of letting them know that we’re watching and that we don’t like it.”
Union solidarity wasn’t the only topic brought up at the rally — Brown University Dining Services Supervisor Mathilde Barland ’21 spoke about challenges BuDs workers are facing following recent changes to University hiring and staffing procedures. “Brown refuses to take us seriously because we’re students,” she said. “But my work, our work, has value.”
“Student workers remain an essential part of Dining operations,” Clark wrote. “We expect that student workers will remain major contributors to dining services operations as they have for nearly 50 years.”
— with additional reporting by Sophie Culpepper and Melanie Pincus