The Graduate Labor Organization, Brown’s graduate student union, filed three unfair labor practice charges against the University with the National Labor Relations Board Oct. 5.
“Brown has shown us repeatedly that they view our contract as a suggestion, and have failed to uphold even basic principles outlined in it,” Kaitlyn Hajdarovic GS, GLO vice president and chair of the grievance committee, said in an Oct. 8 GLO press release. “We’ve met multiple times with administrators over these issues and nothing has changed. Brown has left us no choice but to file these unfair labor practice charges.”
Delayed dues deductions
The first charge filed by GLO concerns the University failing to collect union dues in September and instead trying to collect double dues in October, according to an Oct. 6 tweet by GLO.
According to the GLO press release, “union members authorize dues to be automatically deducted from their stipends in order to fund their union,” and the University is “required to deduct (dues) on a monthly basis by the collective bargaining agreement between the University and GLO.”
GLO’s collective bargaining agreement states that dues “deductions shall be made prospectively only and no retroactive deductions shall be made.”
University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald that “the University delayed the September dues deduction until October to be certain that all student appointments were included,” given that graduate student appointments, or type of employment, fluctuated due to shopping period and public health restrictions caused uncertainty about the enrollment status of many international graduate students for the fall semester.
Clark added that “the Graduate School met with union leadership in September to review and discuss this approach; the union expressed no concerns with delaying the deduction until October, and in fact the delay modeled one requested directly by the union in prior semesters.”
GLO’s second charge accuses the University of making unilateral changes to working conditions that result in lower and less frequent pay for remote workers.
“Some grads got approval to work remotely for the fall semester because of COVID, and after getting their approval, were told if they didn’t reside in one of 12 states, they couldn’t be paid,” Hajdarovic said.
To remedy the situation, Brown is paying remote graduate workers in states where the University is not authorized to conduct business through a third-party service, Clark wrote.
GLO maintains that this policy is a violation of their collective bargaining agreement, which states that “no changes to wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment” not already recognized by the CBA “will be made except by mutual agreement of the University and the union pursuant to collective bargaining.”
Additionally, GLO’s Oct. 8 press release stated that “grads have received significantly late pay, in some cases as little as $620 for the entire month of September, as a result of the University switching them to a third-party payroll service.”
In Fiscal Year 2021, the minimum graduate worker pay was $32,305 for the year, breaking down to $2,692.08 per month, according to Hajdarovic.
Clark wrote that the University notified GLO of this policy in July, adding that at the time GLO expressed no concerns. Clark also noted that Brown is paying the fewer than 10 graduate students in this position with no change in compensation.
Union membership rights
The third charge claims that the University failed to communicate with graduate students in the bargaining unit about their right to join GLO.
The charge argues that the University has not been clear with graduate students that graduate work is covered by the union, Hajdarovic wrote in an email to The Herald. This has caused confusion among graduate students about the protections to which they are entitled and led to the University hiring students “who have not paid dues or fair share fees, undermining (GLO’s) contract,” Hajdarovic added.
The CBA states that the University and GLO must notify covered graduate student employees of the existence of the agreement upon hiring and also provide information about union membership and payroll deduction.
Clark wrote that “Brown has invested significant time to communicating with bargaining unit members their requirement to pay union dues or fair share fees” including having Grad School leaders connect with students who have not complied with paying dues to have them coordinate with the union on how they would like to pay their dues.
Beyond the charges
NLRB lawyers are in the process of collecting evidence before they decide whether to pursue the charges, according to Hajdarovic. Possible next steps include either returning to the grievance process laid out in the CBA or scheduling a full hearing.
Beyond these three charges, GLO is also in talks with the University over other alleged contract violations.
The press release states that GLO is pending arbitration over the status of tuition-paying master’s graduate employees, as “the University has removed tuition-paying master’s grads from GLO’s bargaining unit, paying them at approximately half the rate of PhD grads for the same work.”
According to the CBA, the bargaining unit only includes master’s students who are “appointed Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants and Proctors.”
Additionally, GLO and the University have been in arbitration over payments to help cover pandemic-related expenses not being sent to all covered graduate employees.
Hajdarovic said that in GLO’s annual wage reopener negotiations this year, GLO and the University reached an agreement to send out $750 payments on July 30 to all graduate workers to help address rising costs of living and pandemic-related expenses.
Yet while the agreement stated that the payment would be distributed to the roughly 1,600 graduate employees who worked during the spring semester, GLO received reports of graduate students who had graduated after the semester — many of whom continue to work for the University — and who did not receive their payments, Hajdarovic said.
“Brown said the payment was going out to around 1,600 people, and when we contacted the University, it had only gone out to 1,450,” she said. “That’s a huge discrepancy.”
Hajdarovic said that GLO initially tried to resolve the issue informally through talks with Associate Dean for Administration and Operations Ethan Bernstein. When those didn’t yield results, GLO filed a formal grievance.
Since then, GLO announced on Sept. 28 on Twitter that “through the grievance process, grad workers who were denied their $750 COVID payment will be paid the money they are owed.”
Hajdarovic said that these payments are expected to be sent out on Oct. 30.
In addition, Hajdarovic said, the University was supposed to send GLO a list of all 150 students who did not receive their $750 payments. But as of Oct. 13, the University had a list of just 60 names. If the University does not send a full list or send payments to all 150 students, Hajdarovic added, GLO may seek further arbitration.
In an email to The Herald, Bernstein said that the discrepancy can be attributed to the University’s continuing efforts to identify all students who were not sent the payments. “The payment was disbursed on July 30 to those eligible and active graduate students, and we are working closely with GLO to disburse the payment to any graduate student who was eligible but graduated or left the University before that pay date,” he wrote.
“We look forward to continuing our efforts to engage in good faith with union leadership on issues of importance to graduate students,” Clark added.
Overall, Ramamurthy said in GLO’s press release that the union is committed to ensuring that the University fairly compensates graduate employees.
“The grad workers running our union at Brown are tired of the University undermining workplace democracy,” Ramamurthy said. “The University has taken every opportunity to do things the hard way with GLO, but we won’t die by a thousand cuts. Every adversity that we face from admin makes it more clear to grads: We have a union and that’s why Brown must respect our worker power.”
Caleb Lazar is the senior editor of data desk for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board.