The Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees elected 14 members to the union’s bargaining committee Feb. 8 as it prepares to begin negotiating worker contracts with the university.
The bargaining committee aims to win a contract that addresses the top four issues identified by graduate employees, including increased worker compensation, dental and vision insurance, expanded health insurance coverage and reduced out-of-pocket costs for health insurance.
The election represents a step towards a university contract that meets the needs of graduate student workers, Chad Frazier, a seventh-year doctoral student and member of the GAGE organizing committee, said.
“We’re all very excited to be at this stage of the process, I mean, this is kind of what we have been working for: the opportunity to sit down at the table with the university and bargain for a contract that really reflects our contributions and really addresses the issues that are important to us,” Frazier said.
The election came after GAGE voted to unionize in Nov. 2018 following a year-long push to receive official recognition as a union from the university. The university initially refused to recognize GAGE as a union because it considers graduate student employees primarily as students, not as workers.
The graduate union held a general body assembly on Feb. 6 to assess the bargaining committee’s future priorities. During the general body assembly, members reaffirmed the outline of the organization’s purpose and shared excerpted results of a survey GAGE conducted among graduate employees, both members and nonmembers of GAGE. The survey flagged the key concerns of graduate workers from expanded health insurance to increased compensation.
The bargaining survey’s results, which are not yet fully available to the public, provided the basis for discussion at the meeting, according to Frazier.
“Since we won our election last November, we’ve been talking to grads, getting their issues and we recently completed a bargaining survey that we circulated to our members that was designed to identify those issues that they wanted to raise at the bargaining table in a more systematic way,” Frazier said.
The results of the survey will provide meaningful representations of the needs of graduate students, according to Avram Reisman (GRD ’19), a bargaining committee member in the social sciences.
“I hope that the administration listens to our stories and data collected by the GAGE bargaining survey and we can find some common ground on what graduate employees deserve,” Reisman wrote.
Of the respondents to the survey, the results showed that 69 percent missed or delayed medical care because of inaccessibility, according to a Feb. 6 GAGE news release. The survey results revealed healthcare, including basic dental and vision care, is one of the main priorities of graduate employees, according to Deidre Nelms, a fourth-year doctoral candidate and bargaining committee member.
Graduate students are also frustrated with unclear terms of employment, Natascha Otoya, a second-year doctoral candidate and GAGE member, said.
“There should be clear expectations of what graduate work is,” Otoya said. “We’re supposed to work for about 15 to 20 hours a week but we end up working for much more because the expectations aren’t clear.”
The bargaining committee will work to advance GAGE’s more concrete goals drawn from student concerns highlighted in the survey, Frazier said.
“They’ll be the ones crafting the proposals that sort of translate those issues that members have raised in conversations with organizers, and also in the bargaining survey—just sort of practical proposals, bottom-line proposals that address issues like healthcare, food insecurity, compensation, benefits,” Frazier said.
The bargaining committee members are split between discipline categories including humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, mathematics, computer science and analytics.
Voting for the bargaining committee was conducted through an electronic ballot, which closed Feb. 7. Those eligible to vote included graduate students with a signed GAGE membership card who are working as research assistants, teaching assistants or instructors of record during the current semester or who are set to fill one of those positions in the Fall 2019 semester, according to the GAGE website.