Update on graduate student unionization

A letter from Vice President for Human Resources David Trainor | January 24, 2018


Dear Members of the Boston College Community:

I want to update you on the status of the graduate student union organizing process.

In March of last year, the United Auto Workers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to represent Boston College’s graduate research and teaching assistants as employees. In a 2016 decision involving Columbia University, the NLRB reversed its longstanding position that such graduate students are not employees, but students, and therefore ineligible for union representation under federal law. When the petition was filed, Boston College argued that the Columbia case was wrongly decided and that the union’s petition should be dismissed. Notwithstanding, the Boston office of the NLRB scheduled an election among the graduate students.

Contrary to what has been asserted, Boston College filed an appeal (request for review) with the full five-member NLRB in Washington, D.C., before the election was conducted and not in response to the results of the election.  In the appeal, the University argued that the union’s petition should be dismissed because (1) the Columbia University decision holding that graduate students are employees with rights to unionize was incorrectly decided and (2) the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over this matter because of Boston College’s Catholic and Jesuit identity. As the University is a faith-based institution, the idea that the NLRB can determine which components of our academic enterprise are religious and which are secular is a gross misunderstanding of our mission and ignores the direct role graduate research and teaching assistants play in the formation of students.

Despite Boston College’s request to postpone the election or impound the ballots pending the decision on the appeal, the NLRB held the election, counted the ballots, and announced the result publicly. In the appeal, which is still pending, Boston College is following the procedures established by the NLRB specifically to address legal issues such as the University’s position that the Columbia University case was wrongly decided and should not be followed. We believe that following this course is the right thing to do and the proper way to do it. The union’s call for Boston College to bargain with it now, while the status of its relationship with the graduate students is under legal review, amounts to an inappropriate attempt to shortcut established legal processes. We are disappointed that the union persists with its campaign of disruptive and disrespectful conduct that too often interferes with the rights of others in our community. In contrast, Boston College will continue to follow the legal path established by the NLRB.

While we disagree with the legal position taken by the union, Boston College highly values the hard work and important contributions made by our graduate students to the formation of our students and to the University community as a whole.  Examples of Boston College’s appreciation for the role of our graduate students include tax-free tuition remission, competitive stipends, and health insurance coverage fully paid by BC provided for doctoral students (more than provided to any group within the Boston College community, all of whom pay a portion of their healthcare expenses).

Regardless of this legal process and its outcome, Boston College will continue to value and support our graduate students.  We will continue to provide further updates to the Boston College community as the process continues.

Sincerely,

David Trainor
Vice President for Human Resources