The Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE) held their first meeting Jan. 10. The event marked the beginning of the GAGE campaign to fight for greater rights and protections for graduate student-employees at Georgetown.
GAGE formed out of the Doctoral Students Coalition (DSC). “About a year and a half ago, a number of Georgetown Ph.D Students started the Doctoral Students Coalition (DSC)—an organization intended to serve the particular needs of Doctoral students at Georgetown” said Bed Feldman, a Ph.D student in the Department of History who was involved in the early efforts of DSC. One of the key issues discussed by early DSC working groups was the concept of unionization and how it would benefit the larger graduate student community.
GAGE has arisen to take up the movement of advocating greater rights and privileges for graduate students, whereas the DSC focuses on Ph.D students. GAGE and DSC have now split into two separate organizations. “DSC is an advocacy and social group for Ph.D students, whereas GAGE is actively pursuing affiliation and recognition as a union” said Deidre Nelms, a Ph.D student in the Department of Philosophy.
The first meeting of GAGE opened with a conversation about incentives for forming a union. When asked why they supported a union, answers from the graduate students in attendance included the desire for greater benefits and health coverage and a better structure for contract renegotiation and grievance reporting. The group also discussed the issue of affiliation, drafting a constitution, and upcoming events.
Nelms also pointed out that roughly 80% of the graduate student employees surveyed recently were in favor of unionization. Historically, an issue regarding working hours and wages arose which created a compelling reason for graduate student employees to be so strongly in favor of unionization. “Last year, the administration sought to unilaterally increase the number of hours graduate employees are asked to work for the university with no commensurate increase in wages, and without informing the student-workers of this change,” Feldman said.
While DSC was able to win a moratorium on this measure, Feldman also reported that there are other issues important to both organizations. “For example: according to MIT, the current living wage in Washington, D.C. for one adult is 30,253; yet the vast majority of us receive only 27,000 a year,” Feldman said.
Another key issue contributing to the drive toward unionization is insufficient health care benefits for graduate students. The university offers graduate students the same coverage plan as the one made available to undergraduates, but many think this coverage plan is insufficient for the needs of adults often several years older than the typical undergraduate.
GAGE is currently in the process of acquiring an affiliation agreement from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) a key step as the organization is not yet affiliated with any national or international union. GAGE hopes to vote on this particular issue in the near future.