Members of the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE) delivered a letter to the office of university President John DeGioia declaring their intention to unionize. The letter was delivered following a rally on Copley Lawn to celebrate reaching majority support for unionization among graduate student employees. The university now has the choice of whether or not to recognize the union and begin negotiating a contract.
The letter calls on Georgetown to allow collective bargaining by graduate students because a majority have expressed support for unionization, and have designated the American Federation of Teachers as their agent.
“We call on Georgetown University to live up to its highest Jesuit values of promoting cura personalis and offering dignified work, specifically by respecting the results of these organizing efforts by its employees, voluntarily recognizing a graduate worker union, and beginning to collectively bargain with us,” the letter reads.
The letter also cites the university’s Just Employment Policy. The policy, adopted in 2005, includes a commitment “to respect the rights of employees to vote for or against union representation without intimidation, unjust pressure, undue delay or hindrance.”
Rachel Pugh, the university’s spokesperson, wrote in an email to the Voice that the administration is “carefully reviewing their request.”
Roughly 75 GAGE members first gathered on Copley Lawn for a rally, wearing matching blue shirts that read “#WeAreGAGE.” Several members took turns giving brief speeches about why they wanted a union. Speakers voiced concerns about maternity leave, hours, wages, summer funding, and healthcare. One member noted that Notre Dame, another Catholic university, announced that it would no longer cover birth control under its health plans, and believed that a union would be able to protect benefits like this.
Before his speech, Luca Soldaini, a fifth year Ph.D. student in the computer science department, said the desire to unionize gained momentum nearly two years ago, when the university tried to increased hours unannounced and graduate students decided they needed to have a greater say in how decisions about them were made.
“We have no way to bargain right now. We’re not at the table, so we need the union to be able to be sure we can do that,” Soldaini said. “We want a way to have an official communication channel with the university to make sure that they understand and listen to our demands. Better pay, better health insurance, protection for international students.”
Kevin Carriere, a fourth year Ph.D. student in the psychology department, also gave a speech, and underscored the point that graduate students are not only studying at the university, they are working for it. According to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board in Aug 2016, doctoral students at private universities are legally considered employees, as well as students.
Carriere believed that by unionizing, graduate students will be better able to receive funding for research, which will in turn attract more students.“We want to be recognized for the work that we do and be appropriately compensated for it. We want to grow as a department. We want to make Georgetown a better place, but that requires us to have the money to bring in the best students,” Carriere said.
After the speeches members of GAGE marched to Healy Hall, chanting, “We Are GAGE,” and “Georgetown Negotiate.”
Joe Ferrara, DeGioia’s chief of staff, received the letter outside DeGioia’s office, and said to that he would deliver it to DeGioia, who would “make a very careful consideration” of it.
Members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, an undergraduate student group, were at the event to show their support for the graduate students. Logan Arkema (COL ‘20), a member of the organization, said that he was glad to see graduates organizing. “I’m very excited that the grad students finally have a majority after working for a couple years on this, and that the movement to unionize grad students has come to Georgetown,” Arkema said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, supported GAGE’s efforts in a press release from AFT.
“Georgetown University has a proud history of treating its employees justly and upholding the values of inclusion, equity and labor rights,” the statement reads. “By joining together in a union to raise their voice, Georgetown graduate employees are honoring the best traditions of their institution. And as professionals who grade the papers and conduct the research that makes Georgetown run, they deserve, just like their academic peers, a real say in the decisions that shape their working lives.”
For Soldaini, the response to GAGE’s unionization effort from outside the graduate student body has been impressive. “We’re being overwhelmed by the response of other students who might not be grad students.” Soldaini said.
GAGE has requested a formal response from the administration by Nov 8.
Image Credits: Noah Telerski