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Boston Graduate Workers Union

Image description: BUGWU members and allies are gathered in front of a BUMC campus building. One person has a red and white BUGWU terrier cut-out. One BUGWU member is speaking into a megaphone. Signs like BUGWU ULP Strike can be seen in the background

With the first few days of our strike now under wraps, we are not slowing down. Here are a few ways we have been building our collective power:

During bargaining, graduate workers came to the table committed to winning a fair contract that upholds the humanity and dignity of all graduate workers, which includes an end to rent burden, real annual cost-of-living adjustments, and provisions that support and protect all of us, including international workers rights, public health protections, meeting workers’ access needs, and strong support for LGBTQ workers and workers with children and dependents.

Join Our In-Person and Virtual Pickets

We invite fellow union members and allies to join us in our fight for a fair contract! Sign up to join an in-person or virtual picket!

Image description: a graphic with the headline "BUGWU STRIKING". It includes daily picketing information for Charles River Campus for 10am - 4pm in Marsh Plaza and for BUMC: 9am-1pm for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday, and Fridays, and 9am - 3pm on Wednesday. It also includes a link to the rank-and-file hardship fund and text that reads "visit to see up-to-date & additional picket information, to send a message to BU Admin in support of BUGWU, and more!

Mark Your Calendars: Hybrid State of Strike General Membership Meeting, Monday April 1st at 4 PM ET

More information to come! 

Strike Pay Info

If you are seeking strike pay, fill out & submit your documentation now. Workers who plan to strike and access the SEIU 509 strike fund must submit this documentation to receive payment. We also have a member-run hardship fund to supplement the SEIU 509 strike fund.

Remember: You must sign in AND sign out at your picket site to document your attendance and receive strike pay. If you have to leave, you can sign out and sign back in before signing out again for the day—but you have to sign in each time you arrive at a picket site to get credit for the time you were there. If you have any questions, talk to your picket captain.

If you have wages withheld because of the strike, and want to access BUGWU's Rank-and-File Worker Support Fund, please review our procedure! BUGWU's Rank-and-File Worker Support Fund application form will be open from Friday, Mar. 29 at 12:00am to Sunday, Mar. 31 at 11:59pm. You are eligible to apply for the fund if your pay has been withheld (in whole or in part) and you have consistently withheld labor. If you have any questions about the fund or want to get involved, please reach out to the #worker-support-fund Slack channel or email the working group at [email protected].

Know Your Rights

Many of our colleagues have inquired about what to do if asked whether they intend to work or strike. As with every stage of our campaign to win our union and win at the bargaining table, standing strong together means more power & safety for us and our coworkers. The law requires that workers be informed that there will be no repercussions based on their response to this question—and our union has filed a ULP (Unfair Labor Practice) charge against BU for failing to do so. In the meantime, if asked, BUGWU members can respond: "I cannot answer this question without assurances there will be no repercussions based on my response." If you have any questions or concerns about a situation like this, contact a union representative.

Keep In Touch

Sign up for texts to make sure you get urgent updates about the strike! Text BUGWU to 787753 to subscribe. And as always, check out our new strike webpage for helpful resources and reach out to a union representative or Bargaining Team member if you are looking to get engaged or have questions.

Bargaining Summary – Wednesday March 27th, Session #18

We met with BU administration for our first bargaining session of our strike. Here’s a brief recap of what occurred:

  • BU administration tentatively agreed (TA’d) on our latest Payday proposal, and we offered only minor changes on their latest Personnel Records proposal which they should be willing to TA.
  • We brought counterproposals on Union Security, Union Rights, Grievances, and Commuting Benefits.
  • BU brought counterproposals on Paid Time Off, Worker Rights, and Professional Development.

The BU administration used bargaining time to debate our status as workers and even suggested that we are not entitled to fully-funded stipends that would allow us to work and live in Boston. At one point, their legal counsel tried to suggest that grad students all have unique situations to consider, including deciding if they want to bring their families with them to Boston. We want to be clear, no graduate worker should have to choose between their work and their family. 

BU counterproposals

Paid Time Off: this was BU’s last remaining counter to one of our original proposals. They rejected our proposals around personal days, time off for visa appointments, the ability to cash out vacation days, and access to the same level of personal and family leaves as faculty. They also amended much of our language to allow flexibility for the administration, including phrasing such as “policy may be modified from time to time” and delaying when this article would go into effect until fall 2026.

Worker Rights: Most of their changes in this counterproposal were minor, however they did give themselves more time for a reimbursement to be processed.

Professional Development: In the administration’s counterproposal they are offering a funding pool of $60,000 that members can apply with awards up to $1,000 per year. Our latest proposal had a pool of $250,000 with awards up to $1,500 per year.

BUGWU Counterproposals

Union Security: In this article, we included provisions around graduate worker’s union membership, including information regarding agency fees and dues. Our change to their latest counterproposal was a minor difference in how the article would be enforced as well as changes to reflect the policies around membership within Local 509

Union Rights: In this article, we replaced language that would allow graduate workers to serve as union representatives and be paid a prorated stipend for their work. This is a clause we feel is important to prevent burnout in our coworkers who volunteer to represent their colleagues.

Grievances: Grievances are an important tool that graduate workers can use to enforce the contract when it’s been violated. Our counter proposal revised their 15-day response timeline to 10 days to help ensure an expeditious process. We also removed a requirement that Step 2 meetings must be filed by the Union on behalf of the worker. This is unduly restrictive of the rights of the individual worker. Individual workers should be able to file grievances on their own behalf up to a certain point without a union steward or staff member's approval. Finally, we agreed that mediation could be mandatory on the condition that we remove Step 3 from the grievance process so that the overall number of mandatory steps in the process remained the same. We are happy to pursue alternative forms of conflict resolution like mediation, but we are also interested in resolving problems in a timely fashion. 

Commuting Benefits: This proposal moves forward on the positive momentum we’ve made on the MBTA benefits. We accepted the administration’s counterproposal to increase the MBTA subsidy to 50%, while repeating our initial demands that grad workers should have access to the same parking permits as faculty and staff and the Bike Commuter Reimbursement benefit. 

Bargaining Summary – Friday March 22nd, Session #17

We were busy last week preparing for our strike so we didn’t have a chance to share our full bargaining summary from the 3/22 session. Here it is!

BU’s counterproposals

Discipline: Their counterproposal rejected language in two areas that are important to us. They rejected our proposal that workers who are investigated but not disciplined can have their record expunged. They also rejected language that workers should be given a notice that they have the right to a union representative. The right to have a union representative present at any meeting which could lead to discipline is an important right that all union workers have, and we believe BU should inform workers of this fact in the beginning of a disciplinary procedure.

Personnel Records: Their counter is similar to our proposal and they agreed to our language that TAs and TFs be given access to their course evaluations. However there’s an exception in their clause. BU is implementing a new student information system in the Fall 2024 and their counter provides leniency for them if the new software doesn’t work as they expect. Nonetheless we could be close to a tentative agreement on this article.

Union Rights: In this counterproposal they are holding on their previous position of rejecting union release time. This is a clause we feel is important to prevent burnout in our coworkers who volunteer to represent their colleagues. They agreed to the access to orientations that we proposed with less time and notice. This is a significant win that will allow us to meet with new Graduate Workers to inform them of their rights and get them plugged in to union happenings on campus

Nondiscrimination: Their counterproposal included significant changes from our proposal. They rejected our language on caste nondiscrimination – language that is increasingly commonplace in graduate union contracts. They also rejected our annual reporting clause. There was also a change making it more difficult to pursue a nondiscrimination grievance, since it would remove the ability of the arbitrator to come to a different finding of facts than BU’s own internal investigation.

MOU on Recognition: BU rejected the MOU we introduced alongside recognition. We are disappointed in their response, and this continued insistence on “non-service graduate students” not being able to benefit from our organizing. In January we offered to accept their recognition proposal if it were packaged with an MOU stating that the benefits of our contract be applied to all graduate workers, including those that are given the non-service designation. We saw this as a compromise, as it is unreasonable to us that a graduate worker would lose access to union benefits if they transition to a non-service status.

MBTA subsidy: In this counterproposal BU has agreed to extend the 50% MBTA subsidy to “all students within PhD programs who are receiving full stipends and within their five year funding guarantee and any Graduate Student Workers within the unit”. We welcome the movement on this issue, and it is indeed very close to what we’ve been advocating for. 

BUGWU’s counterproposals

Payday: We think we could be close to a tentative agreement on this article. Our counterproposal changed the schedule for when emergency payments are processed so that it follows the timeline set by the Massachusetts wage and hour laws.

Professional Development and Training: Our counterproposal decreased the size of the funding pool from $300,000 in our initial proposal to $250,000. In exchange we included wording that any unused funds would roll over to the next year. This is a size similar to other graduate worker union contracts, and BU’s current offer is for a $30,000 funding pool.

Worker Rights: Our counterproposal had a number of working changes, but in its current form we believe this could be the basis of an agreement. This proposal as it stands now would secure the rights of graduate workers to resources they need to perform their duties successfully – including access to private spaces, library services, departmental handbooks, lactation rooms, and reasonable reimbursement systems.

Thanks for reading!

Do you or someone you know have any interest in helping to create & edit this newsletter? Getting involved is easy, with no commitment level required. Everyone is welcome; we’re happy to have all the help we can get! Just search for the #communications-team channel in the BUGWU slack. (Not on the BUGWU slack? Reach out to any union rep to join!)