As members of our graduate union, we were proud to agree to a contract with the University on issues that matter to graduate students, such as wages, parental benefits and a grievance procedure. We have also continually done our best to respect and honor the words of our contractually binding agreements since they were made. However, over the past several months, Brown’s administration has made it increasingly clear that they have no qualms about violating the terms of our contract.
Their violations of our contract include refusing to follow the dues-collecting procedure outlined therein, making unilateral changes to our working conditions by cutting the pay of some graduate student workers who work remotely, instituting a residency requirement and failing to collect fair-share fees. As a result, earlier this fall, our union filed three claims of Unfair Labor Practices with the National Labor Relations Board.
We and other GLO members are deeply concerned about the University’s repeated violations of our contract, and we view the University’s pattern of bad faith actions as an ongoing attempt to undermine our union. That is why over 300 graduate workers are joining voices in a petition to demand that Brown respect our workplace democracy. As a unionized workplace, we make democratic decisions about our working conditions: The voice of every graduate worker should matter. Brown’s unilateral decisions and violations of the contract have stifled the voices of graduate workers who democratically ratified that contract.
We are demanding that Brown make things right. Specifically, we want to share some demands that Brown can act upon immediately — the contents of which we have already presented formally before the NLRB.
First, Brown must allow any and all graduate students who are currently working remotely to continue to do so in the spring semester. Many graduate workers were displaced due to the pandemic and have been forced for health, family and other reasons to continue their work remotely this fall. Forcing students to relocate on short notice for the spring semester is unacceptable. Brown should immediately change their policy to allow graduate students who are working remotely to continue to do so for the duration of the spring semester.
Brown should also agree to bargain with GLO over working conditions, including remote work. Instead of making unilateral changes, Brown must come to the negotiating table with GLO, the sole legal representative of the University’s graduate workers, to find mutually agreeable terms.
Lastly, the University must publicly commit to respecting the fact that here at Brown, graduate labor is union labor. This would entail clear and regular communication to graduate students about their right to join a union. Instead, Brown has failed to adequately notify graduate employees about the union security clause — which requires graduate student workers to join GLO or pay fair-share fees as a requirement of employment — even though this is codified in our contract. Brown’s failure to effectively enforce the union security clause creates a de facto right-to-work workplace, undermines our union as the bargaining representative of graduate student workers at Brown and deprives GLO of the funds it needs to run.
Brown’s administration has falsely claimed that, when notified of the University’s remote work policy for the fall 2021 semester in July, GLO had expressed no concerns. To the contrary, GLO expressed several concerns at that time, and we remain concerned about the University’s pattern of presenting false narratives.
The administration also claims that they have communicated to graduate workers the requirement to pay dues or fair-share fees. However, these communications have been late and inadequate, leaving many graduate students confused about their right to join the union. Fair share fees cover the basic costs of representing graduate student workers and upholding our contract. By failing to enforce the union security clause, Brown is undermining our ability to protect our coworkers.
We are calling on Brown to respect our workplace democracy and to honor the letter of our contract. It is not too late for Brown to make things right.
Carin Papendorp GS and Siraj Sindhu GS can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.