GAGE Empowers College students within the Struggle for Employees’ Protections
To Marya Hannun, an eighth-year Islamic research doctoral pupil, the shortage of institutional assist for graduate college students at Georgetown College turned clear when she came upon her mom had been recognized with most cancers.
“I came upon that my mother had been recognized with this very aggressive recurrence of her lung most cancers to her backbone and mind, and I needed to depart campus. I knew I couldn’t train and handle her and be there together with her, and I suspected that she didn’t have a lot time,” Hannun mentioned in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “I didn’t know what to do — we didn’t have any insurance policies for that which can be actually enshrined for caring for a relative.”
The dearth of coverage, nevertheless, was quick lived. When Hannun left campus in 2019, the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Staff, Georgetown’s graduate pupil union, was within the means of negotiating a contract with the college to formalize insurance policies round paid depart, amongst different issues, to assist staff like Hannun.
For Hannun, who served on GAGE’s bargaining committee, your complete course of was eye opening. Having skilled the results of the shortage of clear insurance policies, Hannun was shocked to see the college combat in opposition to graduate pupil employee protections.
“I went again and sat throughout from the administration, who I had been sitting throughout from for like a 12 months, and we had a coverage on the desk for — not even paid depart for caring for relations — however simply depart for caring for relations the place you keep your well being care and your standing in this system so that you don’t lose funding sooner or later. And so they simply wouldn’t acknowledge that that was vital,” Hannun mentioned.
Based in 2017, GAGE has sought to advocate for graduate pupil staff on campus, negotiating contracts that codify protections round well being care protection, COVID-19 and extra, typically going toe-to-toe with the college within the course of. By organizing and group constructing, GAGE has effected concrete coverage adjustments to guard the rights and livelihoods of graduate pupil staff at Georgetown.
From Activism to Organizing
GAGE discovered its roots within the Georgetown Doctoral College students Coalition, a gaggle of doctoral college students who goal to boost consciousness for inequitable working circumstances for doctoral staff on Georgetown’s campus. Members of the DSC determined in 2017 to hunt unionization, founding GAGE and increasing its membership to incorporate graduate college students throughout departments and colleges, in accordance with Hannun.
“We had been actually a sort of pupil activist group because the Doctoral College students Coalition who didn’t do way more than get individuals to signal petitions. We didn’t have numerous capability. And as GAGE, we’ve grow to be a extremely formal organizing equipment,” Hannun mentioned.
Nationwide laws finally allowed for the formation of GAGE. A landmark 2016 choice from the Nationwide Labor Relations Board, an impartial authorities company that enforces U.S. labor regulation, outlined graduate staff at non-public universities as staff who’ve the precise to unionize. The ruling got here after the Columbia College graduate college students’ union sued to alter the NLRB rule.
The choice made by the NLRB created circumstances that allowed GAGE to exist, in accordance with Vice President of GAGE Daniel Solomon (SFS ’13, GRD ’23).
“I feel there have been numerous vital adjustments within the nationwide panorama of graduate labor organizing throughout the US that gave rise to the circumstances that made GAGE’s formation attainable,” Solomon mentioned in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
After the 2016 NLRB choice, GAGE approached the college in 2017 to demand recognition of the union in coordination with the American Federation of Academics, a nationwide academics’ labor union, which might function its bargaining unit. The transfer to formal recognition would have allowed GAGE to barter with the college on behalf of all graduate pupil staff. Provost Robert Groves denied the request, nevertheless, arguing the transfer went in opposition to the college’s Simply Employment Coverage, which Groves claimed didn’t apply to graduate pupil staff.
To GAGE President Jewel Tomasula (GRD ’22), who joined the union in fall 2017 because it was campaigning for official recognition, the college’s refusal to voluntarily acknowledge GAGE’s union standing was indicative of how little the college valued graduate college students’ labor.
“Analysis within the labs doesn’t occur with out the Ph.D. college students’ main tasks. We’re those within the labs doing issues first. After which my mates within the social sciences and humanities, they train courses by themselves, so that they create their very own syllabi,” Tomasula mentioned in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Graduate college students have performed and proceed to play an vital function on Georgetown’s campus, in accordance with a college spokesperson.
“Georgetown College shares GAGE-AFT’s perception within the vital function that graduate pupil assistants play and is dedicated to giving them a powerful voice as members of our group,” the college spokesperson wrote in an electronic mail to The Hoya.
Months later in April 2018, the college modified course and allowed GAGE to maneuver ahead with a vote on unionization amongst graduate college students. The sudden reversal got here after a majority of members on the Advisory Committee on Enterprise Practices, a gaggle of scholars, professors and directors who advise the college on office points at Georgetown, resigned from their positions in protest of the college’s refusal to acknowledge GAGE.
After the reversal, the college privately agreed with GAGE to schedule a proper election in November 2018 asking graduate college students in the event that they supported a graduate pupil union on Georgetown’s campus, breaking with the everyday observe of consulting with the NLRB. Finally, graduate college students voted overwhelmingly to unionize, permitting them to proceed into contract negotiations with the college.
In permitting GAGE to vote on unionization, Hannun mentioned Georgetown created a mannequin for different graduate pupil unions at different faculties and universities in the US to observe.
“There was an aversion or reluctance to getting the NLRB to litigate these circumstances, and so the truth that Georgetown agreed to a non-public settlement and circumvented the NLRB was a mannequin that different universities adopted,” Hannun mentioned.
Toe-to-Toe With the College
GAGE began negotiations with the college in January 2019 over a contract between the 2 events. GAGE finally reached an settlement with the college Might 1, 2020, which supplied well being protections like dental insurance coverage and codified pay raises for graduate college students, after months of stalled bargaining and protests. Nevertheless, GAGE has continued to make use of its energy to barter with the college to increase advantages amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
GAGE’s contract was additionally vital as a result of it supplied graduate pupil staff with extra bargaining energy to handle points they face, in accordance with GAGE member and biology doctoral pupil Ellen Jacobs (GRD ’24).
“With out a union, we wouldn’t have any option to inform the administration what we had been comfy with with COVID, and we wouldn’t have any option to get that dental insurance coverage, which we do have as the results of our first contract,” Jacobs mentioned in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
GAGE’s contract outlined coverage concerning medical depart, pay protections and extra, in accordance with a college spokesperson.
“Our groundbreaking collective bargaining settlement (CBA), ratified in Might 2020 within the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, consists of fastidiously negotiated provisions round medical depart, in addition to different points introduced forth by GAGE-AFT. We responded to and consulted with GAGE-AFT and adjusted insurance policies on pupil employment from overseas, service flexibility, public well being protections, medical depart, and ongoing consultations concerning COVID-19 planning. ” the spokesperson wrote in an electronic mail to The Hoya.
With the collective energy of the union, GAGE members returned to the bargaining desk to handle COVID-19 security measures for graduate staff in July 2020, simply months after finalizing its first contract.
Although the college initially held bargaining periods, or conferences between college and GAGE representatives, about including COVID-19 provisions, the administration reversed course in September 2020, stating well being measures had already been mentioned throughout negotiation of GAGE’s preliminary contract.
Weeks later, GAGE formally submitted a letter of grievance to the college, saying directors broke their contract with GAGE by refusing to cut price in good religion over COVID-19 protections. The college denied GAGE’s letter of grievance in October 2020, organising arbitration with a 3rd get together to resolve the dispute.
In the course of the course of arbitration, each GAGE and the college agreed to an expedited course of, submitting solely paperwork as proof to a third-party arbitrator that may later make a binding choice for each events. The arbitration course of was intimidating for a lot of GAGE members who had no authorized background or representatives serving to them, in accordance with Ari Janoff (GRD ’24), the grievance officer of GAGE.
“Working with the arbitrator was a completely new expertise for lots of us. Many people had by no means carried out something like that earlier than. It entails numerous authorized briefs that none of us had ever written or scheduling evidentiary hearings, the place we discuss what counts as a reality,” Janoff mentioned in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “All of us needed to be taught as we went, whereas Georgetown has a lawyer that’s a identified anti-union labor lawyer that’s carried out this for years.”
Finally, the impartial arbitrator dominated the college had violated its contract with GAGE, and because of this, in January, GAGE requested to reenter bargaining with the college to formulate a written settlement on COVID-19 security measures for graduate staff.
The arbitrator’s choice reaffirmed the college’s proper to concern COVID-19 insurance policies and its dedication to bargaining with GAGE in good religion, in accordance with a college spokesperson.
The arbitration course of has empowered graduate college students to combat for COVID-related protections, and the discussions have been easy for the reason that bargaining course of resumed, in accordance with Tomasula.
“We’re hoping that resolves fairly quickly, and I feel the discussions there have been fairly productive, now that we had the arbitrator are available and say that we do have the precise to debate this,” Tomasula mentioned.
A Future in Solidarity
Whilst GAGE progresses on contracts and staff’ protections, it continues to increase its advocacy to incorporate as many graduate staff as attainable on Georgetown’s campus. GAGE has made graduate work extra accessible to extra Georgetown college students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, for instance, and it has emphasised the significance of graduate college students’ contributions to their fields, in accordance with Jacobs.
“After we are paid so little that it turns into exclusionary for lots of people who can’t afford to stay on a sub-living wage, then all people loses. And it’s a means for us to demand the respect that we deserve as professionals in our discipline,” Jacobs mentioned. “I feel that I deserve recognition as anyone who’s contributing to my discipline — not simply as a pupil taking one thing from the system, but additionally including one thing.”
Presently, GAGE is primarily centered on its ongoing negotiations with the college, in addition to widening its membership to incorporate extra grasp’s and worldwide college students, Jacobs mentioned.
There are few GAGE members pursuing grasp’s levels as a result of grasp’s college students spend a brief period of time on campus in comparison with doctoral college students, in accordance with GAGE member and grasp’s pupil Janelle Clausen (GRD ’22). Nevertheless, grasp’s college students are additionally outlined as graduate staff by the NLRB.
Many worldwide college students select to not work with GAGE as a result of they really feel much less invested in campus affairs, in accordance with GAGE worldwide graduate college students committee chair Jeffrey Tsoi (LAW ’23, GRD ’26). Nevertheless, advocacy for worldwide college students is a vital a part of GAGE’s mission, since worldwide college students may be particularly impacted by poor working circumstances due to visa rules, Tsoi mentioned.
“Worldwide college students are sure by visa restrictions — they can’t work exterior of the campus with out some sort of authorized authorization, so they’re particularly susceptible in numerous facets,” Tsoi mentioned in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Past its present advocacy for COVID-19 protections, GAGE has additionally moved to face in solidarity on social media with different actions associated to graduate college students at Georgetown, together with Tuition Equality Now, a motion demanding graduate college students obtain an equitable tuition low cost in comparison with undergraduate college students, and the marketing campaign in opposition to Redeploy Georgetown, which calls on the college to finish obligatory reassignments for Georgetown staff to on-campus positions, no matter if they’re keen to take the protection threat, in accordance with Nicole Dan (GRD ’21).
“I feel what is admittedly stunning about GAGE is the way in which that we’re in a position to be in solidarity with different causes,” Dan mentioned in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “I feel it’s very straightforward for the college to pit us in opposition to one another — it’s very straightforward to say, ‘Oh, grad college students, you’ll be able to have what you need on the expense of the undergrads,’ — however I do suppose that it’s attainable for all of us to get an equitable kind of expertise at Georgetown.”
By continued grassroots group, Solomon hopes GAGE can proceed to make a distinction within the lives of graduate pupil staff and impact actual change on Georgetown’s campus.
“A very powerful lesson is that organizing works, that if you’ll be able to convey collectively a gaggle of individuals and work with them on a relentless and regular foundation to attempt to determine frequent floor of their materials circumstances, that has an actual kind of risk of remodeling coverage and in remodeling facets of Georgetown life,” Solomon mentioned.