An independent arbitrator ruled in favor of the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees in an arbitration case with Georgetown University, stating it did not bargain in good faith over specific policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jan. 19 decision resolves the collective bargaining dispute between the two parties, following the university’s formal denial of GAGE’s grievance motion Oct. 8 that alleged the university stalled negotiations with the union. After the issue moved to arbitration, both parties submitted documents presenting their respective interpretations of the union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified in May 2020.The agreement officially recognized GAGE as a union and outlined contractual provisions.
The union submitted demands to bargain with the university in July 2020 regarding health protections, wage security and unlimited paid sick leave for remote workers. After private bargaining sessions occurred in the weeks leading up to the fall semester, the union expressed its desire to resolve negotiations with the university in a written letter of agreement. GAGE submitted a grievance in September 2020, turning to arbitration proceedings based on claims that the university violated the union’s contract by breaking off bargaining over its fall reopening policies. Throughout the arbitration procedure, union members have organized protests and written letters to support GAGE in defending the contract.
The university’s refusal to document their bargaining agreements in writing was a primary violation found by the arbitrator, Ira Jaffe, according to the Jan. 19 press release from GAGE.
“Mr. Jaffe further ruled that Georgetown violated its obligation to bargain in good faith when it refused to enshrine any agreements between GAGE and itself in a written agreement, calling out the refusal as “troubling” and directing the parties to document future agreements,” the press release reads.
The arbitrator specified mandatory topics on which the university must return to bargaining with GAGE. These items include access to personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing and vaccinations and subscriptions to health services, according to Ari Janoff (GRD ’24), grievance officer for GAGE.
A crucial part of the ruling stipulates that policy proposals that arise in the future regarding graduate student concerns be agreed upon by both parties and not solely adopted by the university, according to Janoff.
“It is not sufficient for the University to unilaterally adopt Union proposals as University policies without coming to a written agreement with the Union,” Janoff wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Although the arbitrator ruled the union could not reiterate issues about reopening, graduate student protections, or COVID-19 policies that were already discussed during contract negotiations, the decision gives GAGE the right to return to negotiation regarding COVID-19 policies that they did not previously discuss, according to the news release.
“For its part, GAGE has already requested negotiations with Georgetown on COVID-19 workplace issues as soon as possible, albeit with a more limited scope,” the press release reads.
The arbitrator’s decision also affirms the university’s right to implement policies, like the Community Compact, which lays out social distancing guidelines for the community members in the area, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a university spokesperson.
“The arbitrator’s decision confirms the broad scope of the University’s management rights and prerogatives under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and recognizes that the University has the right to issue policies, including the Community Compact, related to the operation of the University during the COVID-19 pandemic,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The arbitrator’s ruling states that the university did not break with its obligation to bargain in good faith with GAGE, despite issues related to the Community Compact and the need to record certain agreements, according to the spokesperson.
Jeffrey Tsoi (LAW ’23, GRD ’26), an officer on the GAGE executive council who was involved with the arbitration proceedings, said the arbitration ruling means the university cannot halt bargaining or sidestep reaching a negotiation with the union.
“This empowers GAGE in future informal interactions and formal negotiations with the University,” Tsoi wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The decision should signal to the university that GAGE will fight to protect the rights of graduate workers, according to Zac Park (GRD ’22), who also serves as an officer on the executive council of GAGE.
“Aside from being able to go back to the bargaining table with the University, this whole process has also sent them a very clear message,” Park wrote in an email to The Hoya. “That message is that we will fight as hard as we need to to ensure that graduate workers at GU are guaranteed safe, just, and equitable working conditions.”