PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Thursday, June 21, Brown University and the campus student organization Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE) finalized an agreement setting the terms for a possible union representation election among eligible graduate students at Brown, should such an election take place.
The agreement follows discussions among Brown’s leaders and graduate student representatives since an August 2016 decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that graduate students at Columbia University were employees and have the right to unionize.
Brown Provost Richard M. Locke said that since the NLRB decision, Brown has been consistent in stating that the University would comply with the decision, and in encouraging an open, balanced and fact-driven process to enable graduate students to determine whether or not it is in their best interests to unionize.
“The University’s principal relationship with our graduate students is as students,” Locke said. “This is what guides how we admit, recruit and train our graduate students. However, we also recognize and value the work they do as teaching and/or research assistants.”
The agreement, which is in effect until April 15, 2019, clearly states that if the NLRB reverses the Columbia decision, the agreement will no longer be in effect.
Before an election on unionization can take place, a number of additional steps are required. Locke is sharing the following letter — which includes a joint Brown/SUGSE statement and details many of those next steps — with members of the Brown community following the finalization today of the pre-election agreement.
Members of the Brown Community,
I’m pleased to report that following several months of discussion, Brown University and Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE) have entered into an agreement that outlines guiding principles and operating procedures should the University receive a petition to hold an election asking eligible graduate students whether or not they choose to unionize. The agreement can be viewed here. We also issued the following joint statement in conjunction with the agreement:
Brown University and Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE) have entered into a pre-election agreement to govern a possible union representation election among eligible graduate students at Brown University, should such an election take place.
This agreement creates formal election procedures, voter eligibility guidelines, and a dispute resolution mechanism to help guide an election. The agreement reinforces that if an election is held at Brown, Brown University and SUGSE will work together to ensure that it is free and fair and upholds the right of graduate students who work as teaching assistants, research assistants and proctors to decide whether or not they want a labor union to represent their interests on employment issues.
Since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in August 2016 that graduate research and teaching assistants at private universities could be classified as both students and employees and decide for themselves whether or not to unionize, the University has stated consistently that we would comply with this decision and work to promote an environment that supports open, fair and fact-based discussion and debate. This approach has been in stark contrast to that of many other private universities, and is intended to minimize any campus polarization or divisiveness and to support the strength of our community.
We continue to stand by this commitment. The purpose of this agreement is to ensure an organized and transparent election process should graduate students choose to hold an election at Brown. Our goal remains providing a climate that promotes constructive and balanced dialogue about graduate education and graduate student unionization.
There are a number of additional steps required to hold an election. For example, the union needs support from at least 30 percent of the members of the proposed bargaining unit before they can file a petition to proceed with an election. The agreement will remain in effect until April 15, 2019, but clearly states that it will immediately terminate, if the NLRB reverses the Columbia decision.
We remain dedicated to providing information to help students make an informed decision, and have developed this “Be Informed” website that offers relevant resources. We have also issued guidance to faculty about appropriate and acceptable conduct to ensure that we adhere to the law and offer a climate that is conducive to thoughtful discussion and debate.
Graduate students are valued members of our community and central to the University’s mission. We fully support their right to decide for themselves whether unionization is in their best interest, and to working collaboratively to strengthen graduate education at Brown.
Richard M. Locke