Georgetown University’s graduate student union is launching a digital pressure campaign on administrators after reports that the university has refused to formally guarantee health and economic protections for graduate workers.
The Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees is requesting health protections for graduate student workers who could be exposed to COVID-19, wage security for those working remotely and transparency from university administrators as they draft new policies so graduate students can offer more input. GAGE initially submitted these demands to the university July 14 and resubmitted the demands a week later after receiving no response.
University administrators and GAGE began private bargaining sessions July 29, during which the union presented six proposals and expressed its desire to resolve negotiations in a written letter of agreement, according to Jewel Tomasula (GRD ’22), the president of GAGE. Union members also bargained with the university Aug. 17, according to the group’s Twitter page, but did not make headway.
University administrators did not bring any counterproposals in writing during the third bargaining session August 6 to respond to GAGE’s requests — as would typically be expected in a negotiation process under the union contract. This lack of written commitment is stalling negotiations, according to Tomasula. The university has yet to formalize an agreement with GAGE about fall graduate student policies, according to GAGE members.
The university’s unwillingness to bring anything to the bargaining table in writing shows that it is not open to negotiating in good faith with GAGE, Tomasula added.
“The Administration’s representatives made clear that they had no intent, nor ever had any intent of coming to a formal agreement with GAGE,” Tomasula wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is clear that the Administration received our proposals with their main objective being to fabricate reasons to refuse negotiations, rather than to recognize our Union Rights and engage with the substance and come to mutual understanding.”
On Twitter, GAGE pointed to comments from a member of the administration bargaining team as a sign that the university was not willing to negotiate with the intention of reaching an agreement.
Despite the reported stall, the university administration says it remains dedicated to negotiating with GAGE’s bargaining team on issues that are not already established in the union contract.
“The university is committed to working with union representatives to establish new policies on any matters not covered by the collective bargaining agreement and has already initiated this important work,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Under its current contract, GAGE retains the right to bargain with the university on topics related to mandatory subjects of bargaining, including leave policies, benefits and any significant changes to program or curriculum policies, so long as that topic was not already discussed in the bargaining sessions that led to GAGE’s current union contract. At the time of initial contract negotiations in the spring, the impacts of a global pandemic on graduate student workers were not discussed, according to Tomasula.
The changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated calling on the university to bargain with GAGE, according to Tomasula.
“While our contract was negotiated at the time of the initial COVID-19 shutdown, COVID-19 was itself not substantively discussed as a factor to consider,” Tomasula wrote. “As such, we’re back to bargaining over certain issues (like a new pandemic protection leave and emergency medical leave) to make sure our working arrangements with Georgetown adjust for the risks and problems of working during a global pandemic.”
The dynamics of the ongoing negotiations have been completely different from the bargaining sessions that led to the ratification of GAGE’s contract in May, according to Jeremy Canfield (COL ’19), a member of GAGE’s Organizing Committee.
“During our long contract negotiations, the administration met us with good faith: both sides made proposals, considered the proposals, provided timely counter proposals, and worked together respectfully towards the contract that recently took effect,” Canfield wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We have seen a complete change in tone and substance in these new ‘bargaining’ sessions.”
Leaders of GAGE hosted a meeting for all members Aug. 12 at which they discussed their next steps. The group resolved to enhance advocacy efforts through a pressure campaign during the week of Aug. 17. On Aug. 21, the union will host a digital rally in an effort to push negotiations forward.
Despite the uncertainty and reported lack of transparency from the administration, GAGE plans to continue calling for a formal, written agreement until a deal is reached, according to Tomasula.
“We have seen over and over how the administration changes their policies and plans without consulting graduate workers,” Tomasula wrote in an email to The Hoya. “GAGE maintains that we need a Letter of Agreement that gives us certainty about our working conditions and a mechanism for holding the administration accountable to COVID-19 policies.”