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After 13 months of bargaining, graduate students, Brown reach tentative agreement

University grad students' contract, the first of its kind among the Ivies, provides for COVID-19 relief, scheduled stipend increases

Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees, the University and the American Federation of Teachers — SUGSE’s union affiliate — reached a tentative three-year agreement for a union contract, Provost Richard Locke P’18 and Dean of the Graduate School Andrew Campbell announced in a community-wide email June 4. This tentative agreement is a first among Ivy League graduate schools.

Brown graduate students voted to form a union with SUGSE in November 2018, The Herald previously reported. SUGSE, the AFT and the University then spent 13 months, beginning April 2019, engaged in negotiations over a union contract. Now that the three groups have reached a tentative agreement, it must be ratified by SUGSE members before the contract is officially enacted.

The National Labor Relations Board, a federal body which works “to assure fair labor practices,” has been considering a proposed rule that would excuse the University and other private universities from any obligation to recognize a graduate student union. If the NLRB had implemented this rule before an agreement between the University and SUGSE had been reached, the University would not have been legally required to continue negotiations, The Herald previously reported. But even if the NLRB implements this rule now, the negotiated three-year contract will still be in effect.

In an email to the student body, Locke wrote, “We are pleased to have successfully reached the point of tentative agreement with SUGSE/AFT.”

The AFT, which, in May, helped Georgetown University graduate workers reach a similar agreement with their university, published a news release June 4 that stated, “The tentative (three-year) agreement, covering more than 1,200 workers, will provide graduate employees with peace of mind and financial relief to chart a path through the coronavirus and economic turmoil upending U.S. higher education.”

A post on the SUGSE website denotes several “contract highlights,” including a “two-semester appointment extension in light of COVID-19 for (third-, fourth-, fifth- and many sixth-year PhD) students,” a $400 bonus for graduate students due to COVID-19-induced financial pressure and relief for graduate-worker parents, including greater health care coverage and access to child care.

The tentative agreement also lays out future stipend increases, updated grievance procedures and limits on the length of graduate students’ work weeks, among other provisions.

The tentative agreement must be ratified by a majority of SUGSE members. SUGSE plans to hold a virtual town hall to discuss the contract June 8, with voting occurring on June 9 and June 10, according to Rithika Ramamurthy GS, SUGSE bargaining committee co-chair.

“The work of the union in the future will be to keep holding the University accountable in terms of how it is employing graduates and implicating graduate workers in terms of reopening the University,” Ramamurthy said. This accountability also extends beyond the immediate practices of the University, as going forward “the union also has power to engage anti-racist initiatives on campus, including divestment from the police, stopping the criminalization of (drug and alcohol) use around campus and maybe parting ways from the Providence cops.”

“I think that people will see what we’ve won, especially the COVID-related wins,” she said, and may want to get involved with the union as a result.



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