The Graduate Labor Organization and the University discussed workplace safety and accessibility, leaves of absence and discrimination policy at their fourth contract negotiation session Wednesday. Since Feb. 15, the two parties have exchanged proposals while renegotiating GLO’s collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire on June 30. In the meetings, GLO has proposed a number of new measures for the updated contract, including clearer distinctions between positions and new language on workplace discrimination.
At the second negotiation meeting, which took place March 1, GLO’s bargaining committee proposed that the contract more clearly distinguish between different graduate worker positions and include an express right to workplaces compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act with stronger enforcement, according to GLO’s Twitter updates for the meeting.
The bargaining committee also asked that the bargaining unit — and therefore the contract — expands to cover all graduate students, even when they are not actively teaching. Currently, the bargaining unit only includes graduate students who work as teaching assistants, teaching fellows, research assistants or proctors. This change would allow GLO to represent a more expansive graduate student population, GLO President Sherena Razek GS told The Herald.
At the following meeting March 8, the University put forth a counterproposal agreeing to further distinctions between teaching assistant IIs and teaching fellows, according to GLO’s Twitter updates for that meeting. According to the existing contract, teaching assistant IIs “bear primary
responsibility for instruction and grading of a particular course,” while teaching fellows are “responsible for the design and teaching of their own course.”
The University also suggested the contract should not cover workplace conditions and that instead a working group to examine the situation should be created — a suggestion that GLO rejected.
This conversation continued into the fourth meeting Wednesday, when the University did not agree to GLO’s proposal for strengthened language around workplace accommodations as well as GLO’s request that the bargaining unit expand to all graduate students, Razek said.
The University “is calling what they brought to the table counterproposals, but they were outright rejections,” Razek said. “We've heard from grad workers that there are issues of mold and mildew in the spaces that are provided to us to teach, study, learn and live, and the University responded to that by saying that ‘all University spaces are ADA-compliant.’”
Kate Clark GS, GLO’s coordinator for communications, also noted that some buildings on campus are not wheelchair accessible.
According to Razek, at the third meeting, GLO also proposed two new articles for the contract, the first of which covers safety protections for graduate workers during pandemics and natural disasters.
The University rejected this proposal at the fourth negotiation session, calling it “unnecessary,” though the University did offer to “provide TAs with masks upon request,” Razek said.
“Our workplace safety is a working condition and our employer is obligated to bargain with us over those conditions because they have not been adequate,” she added. “Conditions of work under the COVID-19 pandemic have not been safe, and immunocompromised grads have not been safe.”
“We had a really touching testimonial from a grad last week,” Razek said. “It feels very discouraging that (the administration) would hear that personal story of being scared to live or die, and respond that the articles we were offering to protect people like that grad are unnecessary.”
Clark expressed frustration with the University’s counterproposals, noting that they lacked “substance” and were the “absolute minimum.”
“If bargaining continues with that level of imbalance between the negotiating parties at the table, that's not acceptable, and I don't think (graduate) workers will stand for that,” Razek said.
“We have no interest in negotiating contract terms through the news media,” wrote University Spokesperson Brian Clark in an email to The Herald. “Brown’s focus has been and remains on productive, good-faith collective bargaining sessions with union representatives, and we look forward to upcoming exchanges on proposals and our next negotiating sessions.”
Another article proposed in the third meeting would ensure any complaints of workplace discrimination or harassment go through GLO’s grievance process, providing graduate workers who encounter discrimination a form of recourse separate from the University’s current procedures. This proposed process hasn’t been described in negotiations yet, but according to Razek, it will be discussed in future sessions.
This article aims to clarify the situations in which graduate workers are “explicitly entitled to seek a grievance procedure,” Clark added.
Razek and Clark emphasized that while the University has policies around some of the issues covered, like COVID-19 and discrimination, graduate workers weren’t involved in the development of those policies.
According to Razek, in some cases the proposed changes to the contract defer to University policy, “but we offer changes that serve grad workers’ interests and state in our articles that, where there are discrepancies, our union articles shall prevail.”
In the fourth meeting, GLO also proposed the contract extend paid medical leave and protections for pregnant graduate workers and expand the contract’s definition of discrimination and sexual harassment and misconduct, according to GLO’s Twitter updates.
Though there have been a number of areas of disagreement between GLO and the University so far, Kate Clark emphasized that the negotiations are just beginning. “I'm still and will continue to be extremely hopeful and excited to see what will unfold as negotiations continue.”
“We have the best bargaining committee we've ever had, because our union is stronger than it's ever been,” Razek added. “It's stronger every year.”
GLO’s bargaining committee has not yet solidified what issues will be discussed at the next negotiation session, set after the end of spring break, though Razek said they plan on addressing the University’s counterproposals in more depth.
“We have extensive remarks in response to those rejections that they call counter proposals,” she said.