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Seeking wage increase, over 80 attend GLO community forum

Graduate student workers advocate for stipend increase in ongoing negotiations with U.

“Raises, Rights & Respect,” read many of the Zoom backgrounds of the more than 80 graduate student workers and community members who attended the Graduate Labor Organization’s virtual bargaining room packing during negotiations with the University April 15.

At the virtual event, GLO held an open discussion with attendees, including members of the graduate student community as well as GLO’s Executive Board and Bargaining Committee. Following this forum, the Bargaining Committee and interested attendees went to a different zoom to continue negotiations with the University.

GLO is currently seeking to increase wages for graduate student workers to a wage equal to the contribution graduate student workers make to the University, and one that will support living costs for graduate students in Providence, according to GLO President Rithika Ramamurthy GS.

The wage increase would also aim to offset additional costs incurred from working during the pandemic, which range from PPE to increased rent, The Herald previously reported.

University Spokesperson Brian Clark previously wrote in an email to The Herald that the University has provided PPE to all “community members working in research labs.”

“COVID-19 health and safety measures are not subjects open for collective bargaining,” Clark wrote.

At a national level, advocacy for wage increases and increased benefits and protections for graduate student workers has resulted in protests and strikes at major institutions including Columbia University and New York University. Taking part in this national movement, GLO is currently in the process of contract negotiations with University administrators.

The University’s endowment reached a 12.1 percent return in Fiscal Year 2020, growing to a record $4.7 billion. Despite this, the University has denied offers from GLO’s Bargaining Committee to increase the annual wage increase for graduate student workers, according to Max Weinreich GS, lead organizer for the Physical Sciences.

During initial negotiations in March, GLO opened with a proposal for a 10 percent annual wage increase for graduate student workers. “Brown came back with a 2.5 percent proposal, which was the lowest they could legally offer us,” Weinreich said.

The University’s counteroffer, which is the same increase that faculty and staff are receiving next year, equaled the required 2.5 percent annual wage increase required of the University annually under its three-year contract with GLO. This would bring the current base annual stipend graduate students receive from $32,200 to $33,005 for the next year — an increase of $805, according to GLO Treasurer Keenan Wilder GS.

GLO’s Bargaining Committee then proposed a 6.5 percent wage increase, bringing the annual graduate student stipend to $34,293, “which we thought represented a significant concession,” Weinreich said. The University did not change its initial offer, counter proposing a 2.5 percent increase with an additional one-time payment of $750 to graduate student workers.

“For them to come into this and just say, ‘No, we’re only giving you (the minimum stipend increase that) we have to,’ is absolutely ridiculous,” said Sierra Kaufman GS, a member of GLO’s Bargaining Committee.

“A one time payment (like) this would not be in any way guaranteed to continue into the future,” Wilder wrote in an email to The Herald. “Meaning grads could take a pay cut in the 2023 fiscal year if it wasn’t offered again” and that it “wouldn’t be factored into the starting point for next year’s negotiations.”

Despite an increase in endowment distributions by $12 million, the University’s endowment payout rate decreased by 0.05 percent from Fiscal Year 2020 to Fiscal Year 2021 — “part of a strategic decision to enhance the value of the endowment over the long term and reduces reliance on tuition and fees,” according to a 2020 University news release. GLO is calling upon the University to increase its endowment payout rate to support graduate student workers.

“Brown doesn’t want anyone to see that unionization works, and that with a Union we are able to win a raise,” said GLO Vice President and Bargaining Chair Kaity Hajdarovic GS. “They want us to say that even with this union you only get 2.5 percent.”

After the union advocated for “open bargaining” sessions with the University where community members would be able to sit in and watch negotiations, GLO and the University setted on allowing 50 people to attend each session — a number which has been met at every negotiation thus far, according to Ramamurthy.

Since the number of attendees surpassed the allotted 50 individuals who could attend the bargaining session, the remaining attendees stayed in a separate Zoom call, where they worked to invite colleagues and increase participation in the University’s graduate student community.

“We have come up against really large organizing barriers in the past ... where it felt really, really impossible to get a thousand (graduate students) on the same page,” Ramamurthy said.

“But I don’t think it is (impossible). It’s going to take every person in this room taking action moving forward,” she added, in reference to those attending the bargaining room packing event.

Financial constraints faced by graduate student workers have also been exacerbated by the University’s hiring freeze in 2020, where the University announced the suspension of “any new hiring” for both staff and faculty positions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Herald previously reported.

In later negotiations, references to a “shared sacrifice” were removed, meaning that GLO’s criticism of this point “has worked in some way,” Ramamurthy added.

“This is a crucial moment in our campaign. The semester is ending a little sooner (than previous semesters) … but that doesn’t mean this is over,” Ramamurthy said.

“We know that our members want to stand strong together and want to take action together,” Ramamurthy added. “This is a larger issue beyond just money and the paycheck. We want a chance to prove to each other and prove to the University that collective action works.”


Jack Walker

Jack Walker served as senior editor of multimedia, social media and post- magazine for The Herald’s 132nd Editorial Board. Jack is an archaeology and literary arts concentrator from Thurmont, Maryland who previously covered the Grad School and staff and student labor beats.

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