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CS TAs have a new union contract. What comes next?

Contract secures pay increases, outlines job responsibilities

After successfully unionizing in March, TALO formed a bargaining committee and held negotiations with the University that lasted through late August.
After successfully unionizing in March, TALO formed a bargaining committee and held negotiations with the University that lasted through late August.

The Teaching Assistant Labor Organization — which represents undergraduate computer science teaching assistants and other computer science employees — ratified an interim contract for the 2023-2024 academic year in August, The Herald previously reported.

Over a 72-hour voting period ending Aug. 25, 168 of 377 eligible voters cast their ballot, with over 99% of votes cast in favor of the contract according to ballot results reviewed by The Herald.

The interim contract only lasts for the 2023-2024 academic year and is expected to be replaced by a full contract that TALO and the University will negotiate in the coming months, according to Joe Maffa ’25, a TALO organizer.

“Negotiating a contract could take over a year, and we wanted to protect our workers as soon as possible,” Maffa told The Herald.


Within weeks of successfully unionizing in March, TALO formed a bargaining committee and began negotiations with the University. The parties held eight bargaining sessions over the spring and summer before agreeing on an interim contract in late August.

Maffa and Deputy Provost and Associate Professor of Engineering Janet Blume, who served as the University’s lead negotiator, described negotiations between the two parties as generally productive and cooperative.

“TALO leaders were very receptive, and I felt that we worked together well,” Blume wrote in an email to The Herald. TALO was “thoughtful and well-organized, and we shared their goals of ensuring that the computer science student employee experience and learning environment be strong, inclusive, healthy and well-supported.”

The University was “pretty receptive to our needs, and willing to compromise on a lot of things that we talked about,” Maffa said.

Other CS TAs told The Herald that TALO organizers ensured accessibility throughout the bargaining process and kept its members informed.

Despite not following negotiations closely, Tômas Dougan ’25, a TA for CSCI 1230: “Introduction to Computer Graphics,” said that he still had “a decent idea of what was going on because of how transparent (TALO organizers) are.”

Under the new agreement, CS student employees will receive a raise, have more clearly delineated responsibilities and have a defined grievance procedure through the department.

Undergraduate teaching assistants, who make up the majority of students employed by the department, will earn a base rate of $20 per hour, while head teaching assistants for classes will make $22 per hour and meta teaching assistants — who coordinate the CS TA program — will make $27.50 per hour.

TALO had previously proposed a pay increase of $12 per hour during earlier negotiation sessions, according to a July Instagram post, which would have brought the base rate for TAs from $15.50 to $27.50 per hour.

The interim contract outlines responsibilities for each CS student employee role, expectations of course development, limits on work hours and requirements on faculty for making timely accommodations for student employees they work with. 


“The responsibilities changes are going to be a really, really big thing for UTAs and HTAs,” Maffa said. “It will be good to have protection, the ability to space yourself out from the work you're doing and not feel the need to take on the burden of your course.” 

The contract also lays out a legal process for addressing instances in which administrators or faculty violate its terms.

The aggrieved party must first have a discussion with the supervisor responsible for the grievance and a union representative. If the discussion fails to resolve the issue, it will progress to the department’s director of undergraduate studies, then to the department chair, and then to an outside mediator provided through the American Arbitration Association.

TALO organizers and CS TAs emphasized the importance of the grievance clause but also voiced concerns about student employees feeling comfortable using it.

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“I think starting that discussion is gonna take a lot of courage from our workers,” Maffa said.

“I'm suspicious of how effective that will be,” Dougan said. “It all depends on how much time Brown is willing to invest in changing things.”

But the administration is confident the interim contract will be successful. The department “looks forward to working productively with the undergraduate TAs,” Blume wrote, adding that she will “have regular check-in meetings with department leaders on the status of the undergraduate TA program to ensure that all contractual provisions are effectively implemented, including grievance procedures.”

TALO organizers and the University intend to reconvene later in the fall to begin negotiations on a longer-term contract, according to Blume.

In the full contract, TALO hopes to push for “greater professor accountability with regards to course development and oversight of student employee work,” as well as “more mature protections in our DEI article” and “expanded protections for student advocates and affinity groups,” Maffa wrote in an email to The Herald.

According to Blume, the University plans to prioritize defining pay rates for future years.

TALO organizers and student employees are hopeful that the ratification of the contract will lead to more organizing across the University in the future.

“I hope that this sparks or adds fuel to the fire of more student employees organizing and inspiring them to have a say in their workplace,” Maffa said. “This is something that was made with the work of a year and a half, which is a really attainable timeline.”

The power of the contract is “not necessarily just one specific issue of pay raises or anything,” said Brendan Ho ’24, a TA for CSCI 0111: “Computing Foundations: Data.” 

“The really important thing about it is that students now feel like they have the power to speak up when they feel like there is an issue and the University will listen. This contract shows that they will listen,” he said.

“This is the crux of the union — when there are problems, you have somewhere to go to fix them,” Ho added. “Even if you're just like one small little fish in the sea, you're now part of a bigger school.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Joe Maffa's class year. The Herald regrets the error.

Ashley Cai

Ashley Cai is a Senior Staff Writer from Los Altos, California covering the staff and student labor beat. She is a Brown-RISD Dual Degree studying computer science, IAPA and graphic design. She is also a member of The Herald's Tech Team.

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