Dear Fellow Members of the Boston College Community,
It’s been over a year since I wrote to you in the days leading up to the National Labor Relations Board-overseen graduate student election in September 2017. At the time, I voiced concern about the potential consequences of the unionization of graduate teaching and research assistants. Our position remains that graduate student unionization in any form undermines the collegial, mentoring relationship among students and faculty that is a cornerstone of this academic community. Boston College continues to uphold this fundamentally educational relationship, which we believe is in the mutual best interest of students and faculty.
In the aftermath of a close election that favored union supporters, Boston College maintained its Request for Review with the NLRB in Washington, DC. The United Auto Workers, however, withdrew their petition before the Board in February 2018, thereby nullifying the results of the September 2017 election. In the six-plus months since the UAW decision to withdraw, we have seen other peer universities—including Chicago, Columbia, and Yale—join with Boston College in maintaining that graduate student unionization is a serious threat to our shared academic values and to our ability to advance our distinctive institutional missions.
Recent days have brought renewed calls by some graduate students for the University to recognize their right to establish a union and to enter into collective bargaining. Several claims made by union activists and their supporters deserve to be challenged:
“Their stipends are lower than the cost of living”: The University made investments this past spring to ensure that no doctoral stipend is lower than $20,000 for the 2018-2019 academic year, and these stipends will continue to increase in the future. When combined with other benefits and full tuition remission, the University’s combined financial investment in its funded doctoral students exceeds $40,000 annually for each entering first-year student.
“Most have no healthcare”: Funded doctoral students are eligible to participate in the Boston College student health plan, in which the University provides 100% of the premium. By comparison, Boston College covers approximately 75% of employee premiums, meaning that employees pay, on average, 25% of their premiums.
“When sexual assault and harassment occur in the workplace the grievance procedure is unclear and inconsistent”: The University provides graduate students with clear avenues for reporting sexual misconduct through both the University’s Discriminatory Harassment Policy (for complaints against faculty and staff) and the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy (for complaints against other students). All members of the University community are made aware of these policies annually through the University’s Notice and Disclosures email.
“Those who are parents have no parental leave policies”: Beginning with the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences in January 2017, all eight of our schools and colleges now have parental leave policies for funded doctoral students.
Looking ahead, we commit to investing in focused excellence in graduate and professional education as part of our strategic plan, Ever to Excel: Advancing Boston College’s Mission. Doctoral students and their faculty have long made significant contributions to the University’s mission while enhancing our reputation nationally and around the world. We remain committed to quality graduate education and furthering Boston College’s mission, and we remain convinced that advances can best be made through ongoing, open dialogue, independent of a graduate student union.
Provost and Dean of Faculties
A. In March 2017, the United Auto Workers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking an election to become certified as the union representatives of “all Boston College student employees who provide teaching, instructionally related or research services, including graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Graduate Assistants, Graders and Research Assistants, and all other Graduate assistants compensated through monthly stipends.”
A. Boston College senior administrators, including vice presidents and deans, were joined by several faculty colleagues in providing testimony before the NLRB regional board in Boston asserting the University’s belief that Boston College graduate assistants are students—not employees—whose education is enhanced by their graduate assistantships, and that the NLRB lacks jurisdiction to determine what aspects of the University are religious and what are not.
A. Boston College believes that it is constitutionally exempt from the United Auto Workers petition because our graduate student teaching and research assistants—who are engaged in the core work of the University—are primarily students, not employees, and because of the Jesuit, Catholic dimensions of our mission. We firmly assert that government has no place in determining what aspects of Boston College are religious and what are not.
The US Supreme Court and the US Court of Appeals have consistently rejected the NLRB’s attempt to extend its authority to faith-based schools and its claim of jurisdiction over the academic enterprise. The Supreme Court’s ruling in NLRB v Catholic Bishop in 1979 remains the precedential standard.
A. Our position is that our graduate student research and teaching assistants are students—not employees—and that the mentoring relationship to which faculty commit themselves in the scholarly training of graduate students is a partnership that differs from that of university employees or any other workplace association. We believe that the collegial relationship among our faculty and their graduate student teaching and research assistants would be irreparably altered by a change in this dynamic, at the expense of future generations of teachers, researchers and scholars. Boston College joins several secular universities in opposing graduate student unionization on these grounds.
A. The Catholic Church has long supported the rights of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining, and Boston College has a longstanding relationship with two unions that represent several hundred BC employees. However, we believe that respecting the rights of workers to organize does not require support for government control over matters involving our graduate students, or outside interference in our academic enterprise.
A. Throughout its 154-year history, Boston College’s commitment to formation has been central to its mission. As a result, we believe that everyone involved in teaching at Boston College—including teaching assistants and research assistants—is directly involved in the formation of our students.
The NLRB’s implication that it can determine which components of our academic enterprise are religious and which are secular represents a gross misunderstanding of our mission. The NLRB is in no position to judge a university’s religiosity, let alone the role of each teaching assistant and research assistant in supporting that mission.
A. Catholic and other faith-based universities have cited their opposition to the NLRB’s involvement in their academic affairs based on constitutional and jurisdictional objections. They recognize the serious consequences involved in allowing government intrusion in the mission of the institution. Loyola Chicago, Saint Xavier, Duquesne and DePaul universities are all challenging the NLRB’s purported jurisdiction over their academic affairs. They have been fully supported by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
A. Boston College presented its argument to the NLRB seeking an exemption from NLRB jurisdiction. The regional board of the NLRB has issued a decision in favor of the petition from the United Auto Workers to represent the BC graduate students. As a result, Boston College will consider all available legal remedies within the Board and through the federal courts.
A. For many years, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that graduate student assistants at private universities such as Boston College are not employees entitled to unionize because their relationship with their universities was primarily an educational, not an economic one. In the summer of 2016, in a decision involving Columbia University, the NLRB reversed that long-standing precedent and ruled that private university graduate teaching and research assistants are employees for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and therefore, are entitled to be represented by unions if they so choose. This FAQ attempts to answer the many questions that may be raised by graduate students and other members of our campus community.
A. A union is an organization that serves as an agent representing a specific group of employees. This group is called a “bargaining unit”. A union negotiates on behalf of a bargaining unit to establish collective terms and conditions of employment, such as pay and benefits. When represented by a union, no individual employee is permitted to engage in separate negotiations over their individual employment terms. Unions also represent their members when disputes arise over contracts governing their work. Often, larger unions also use their resources to participate at the state and federal level in lobbying to influence legislation and in political activity to influence elections.
A. The UAW is a labor union representing workers in the United States and Canada. UAW members work in industries as diverse as autos and auto parts, health care, casino gambling, and higher education. It total, the UAW represents more than 400,000 workers, of which about 25,000 are in higher education. UAW’s main headquarters are located in Detroit, Michigan.
A. Agency fees are the fees required by virtually every collective bargaining agreement to be paid to the union by employees who are represented by a union, but who choose not to be dues-paying members. If a position is covered by a union contract and filled by a non-dues paying graduate student, the non-dues paying graduate student will be required to pay an agency fee.
A. Yes. The union negotiates on behalf of all members of the bargaining unit. Even if a graduate student disagrees with the union or a provision in the contract, he or she is bound by it.
A. The NLRB oversees all aspects of the election. Voting booths are set up in an easily accessible campus location or locations, and those eligible to vote may cast a vote by secret ballot during specified hours on a specified day or days.
Every eligible person should vote because the election outcome is determined by the majority of those who vote, not a majority of those eligible to vote. Thus, union representation for non-voters will be decided by those who vote. “Eligible voters” are employees who are part of the defined voting unit at the time of election. Status as a research or teaching assistant at the time of the election, not status as a graduate student, will likely determine voter eligibility in any potential representation election for BC graduate students.
A. We do not know. In a unionized setting, wages, hours and other terms and conditions are subject to negotiation. Stipend levels, remuneration, and benefits may change; there is no guarantee that they will increase.
A. If the union calls a strike, union members could be fined by the union if found to be not in compliance with the strike action. Academic activities regarded as work by the union contract such as teaching and research would be suspended for the duration of the strike, which may delay a student’s time-to-degree or research agenda.
Academic freedom allows all Boston College faculty to express their views on any and all subjects. As a practical matter, however, rules that generally govern communication between employees and their managers and supervisors must be followed by faculty when addressing union-related issues with student assistants. This does not mean the faculty cannot express their opinions about these issues. Members of the faculty have the right to express their opinion on these subjects as long as they do so in a manner that avoids what may be considered under the law to be “threats, interrogations, promises of benefits, or surveillance.”
“The Catholic Church has long supported the rights of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining, and Boston College has a longstanding relationship with two unions that represent several hundred BC employees. As a Jesuit, Catholic university, however, we believe that respecting the rights of workers to organize does not require support for government control over matters involving our graduate students, and that religious freedom, guaranteed by the Constitution, assures the right of faith-based institutions to be free from government interference in our academic affairs. Throughout our 154-year history, Boston College’s commitment to student formation has been central to our mission as a Jesuit, Catholic university. We believe that everyone involved in teaching at Boston College—including graduate teaching assistants and research assistants—is directly involved in the formation of our students.”