Georgetown University’s graduate student union plans to enter arbitration proceedings with the school to resolve a contractual dispute, union leaders announced Friday afternoon.
Members of the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees say the university violated the union contract they had agreed to in May by deciding to no longer bargain with union leadership about fall graduate employee policies. The university stopped bargaining meetings in late August, according to union leadership.
“We cannot abide cynical and disingenuous attacks by the administration on our right to collectively push for safe and appropriate working conditions,” GAGE leaders Jewel Tomasula (GRD ’22) and Daniel Solomon (SFS ’13, GRD ’23) wrote in a statement announcing the move. “We will seek to reaffirm that the administration is obligated to bargain with GAGE on the impact of the administration’s COVID-19 reopening policies on graduate work at Georgetown.”
During arbitration, lawyers from the American Federation of Teachers — GAGE’s parent union — and university lawyers will present their cases before a third-party adjudicator. Should GAGE win its case, the university will be required to continue bargaining sessions in an effort to reach a formal agreement, according to the union.
“We expect to win our case. But, there’s no guarantee. A lot makes the results of arbitration uncertain,” Tomasula and Solomon wrote. “We also know that whatever happens, our organizing is what will determine the administration’s willingness to negotiate a COVID-19 agreement with us.”
The university says it is committed to honoring the union contract and collaborating with GAGE.
“The CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement], negotiated in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, includes carefully negotiated provisions around medical leave, as well as other issues brought forth by GAGE-AFT,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The University is committed to honoring all of these provisions. Georgetown continues to work with GAGE-AFT in good faith.”
The move to arbitration follows months of tense negotiations between university administrators and GAGE members. GAGE began formal negotiations with the university about fall policies in late July after raising concerns about the consequences of university policies on the health and safety of graduate workers.
Negotiations stalled in the weeks leading up to the start of the fall semester, before the final bargaining session in August. As a result, GAGE hosted rallies both in person and virtually as part of a campaign to pressure the university to guarantee more substantial health and economic protections for graduate workers.
Since negotiations ceased in late August, both GAGE and the university have disputed the necessity of bargaining over fall policies. Members of GAGE say the university is obligated to negotiate fall worker concerns as per their union contract, which stipulates that GAGE reserves the right to bargain on mandatory subjects of bargaining, which includes leave and wage policies.
GAGE filed a grievance Sept. 10 to enter an expedited arbitration process, which would bypass a meeting between the parties before initiating legal proceedings. Georgetown denied GAGE’s request, prompting a Sept. 17 meeting that resulted in both parties moving to arbitration.
“We see a fundamental disagreement between us and the administration on the value of union rights, and on the mutually agreed upon protection of those rights in the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Jeffrey Tsoi (LAW ’23, GRD ’26), a GAGE member, wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This warrants an arbitration, which will produce a binding interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement on this issue that we hope helps GAGE better protect graduate workers.”
As GAGE awaits the next steps in arbitration, the union plans to continue to organize and advocate for their cause through virtual events and social media campaigns, according to GAGE member Jeremy Canfield (COL ’19).
Sudden policy changes and lack of accountability always harms the most vulnerable,” Canfield wrote in an email to The Hoya. “GAGE will always fight with and for those valuable members of our community that the administration so often forgets, ignores, and harms.”
This article was updated Monday, Sept. 21 to include a comment from the university.