With a unanimous vote of 35 to zero, the Graduate Student Union ratified its first ever labor contract with Brandeis University on Sept. 18. The agreement, if ratified by the university administration, will then go to the Graduate Union again. The bargaining committee, which worked with the administration to create the contract, will then sign and the contract will go into effect July 1 of 2019.
35 students came to register for the union and vote from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. The vote was overseen by graduate students in the union who worked in shifts. When all the votes were in, two members counted the paper ballots.
When asked how she felt about the vote, Anna Henkin (GRAD), a graduate student pursuing a PhD in the Biochemistry department, said it felt “unreal.” She added that “this is two years of work, and I’m not TA-ing anymore, so I’m not going to see anything in this contract. But I am so proud that other people aren’t going to go through the things that I saw and that I got mad about. No one’s going to have to go through things that made me want to unionize. This is important.”
In 2016, a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students were allowed to organize. The Brandeis Graduate Union has been working since August of 2016 to unionize and is the second school in the nation to petition for a graduate union, the first being New York University.
The contract, drafted in 10 months instead of the typical 12-18 months it takes for a first union contract, provides several benefits for union members. The contract will affect graduate student teaching assistants (TA) and teaching fellows (TF) who are pursuing PhDs. The contract will not affect master’s students, graduate students receiving a university prize instructorship or graduate students in the Rabb School of Continuing Studies.
The contract also would establish embedded counselors so graduate students have better access to mental health resources. TAs and TFs will also have access to more feedback on their teaching and opportunities for professional development. The contract provides that the graduate students will not go on strike while it is in effect.
Once in effect, the contract will raise the minimum wage for TFs from $3,200 to $5,000 for a four-credit course by Oct. 1, 2020, or fiscal year 21. TAs, who currently earn $3,200 in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, $2,500 in the Heller School and $3,000 at the International Business School, will make $3,720 by fiscal year 21.
The union members were impressed with the turnout, despite the heavy rain. “That [the rain] definitely affected things,” said Henkin. “But we got a decent number of people coming in and it was a unanimous yes. And honestly, I was impressed by the number of people who came out because it’s always hard to get people to show up since people are really busy; they’re really academic.”
The unionized students are part of the Services Employees International Union Local 509 (SEIU509). The representative from SEIU509, Matt Dauphin, attended the vote.