August 29, 2017
I am writing in response to a number of questions and requests for more information following the letter to the BC Community on August 21, 2017 from David Quigley, Provost and Dean of Faculties, in reference to the upcoming graduate assistant union election on September 12 and 13, 2017. This letter is intended to provide greater clarity regarding the role of faculty in this process and what actions or activities are permissible during this election period. You may recall that a group of graduate assistants with the support and financing of the United Auto Workers filed a petition last spring with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to unionize, resulting in the aforementioned election next month. Please note that graduate assistants who are primarily administrative or work in University Mission and Ministry, or are enrolled in the School of Theology and Ministry or the Morrissey College’s Department of Theology are excluded from this proposed union.
Once the Boston office of the NLRB determined that graduate assistants who are academic, research, and instructional in nature were primarily employees to be included in the proposed bargaining unit, faculty members who mentor and advise these graduate students became employment supervisors for the purposes of Federal law. This means that the traditional relationship between faculty and graduate assistants has been altered, at least during this pre-election period, and your interactions are governed by a new set of rules and regulations. In order to assist you in understanding how best to proceed, we have posted guidelines that will outline limitations and expectations for communication and supervision. I would like to highlight a couple of these items below.
As an employment supervisor you must be vigilant to avoid any situation where a graduate assistant could claim that you in any way attempted to unduly influence their right to participate in this process or that you discriminated against them by virtue of their union activity. Despite that admonition, you may and are encouraged to keep the lines of communication open with graduate assistants whom you supervise. It is important that you maintain their trust so that they feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns about this process. You may answer their questions, if you feel comfortable that you know the correct response, or refer them to someone who may be able to assist them. We have established a dedicated email address for graduate students to inquire about this firstname.lastname@example.org. You are free to share your personal opinion and experience with unions if relevant to the conversation.
Further, you are urged to encourage graduate assistants to be informed about everything a union might mean for them. For example, whether the union is formed or not is determined by the election. As with any election, the “winner” is whoever receives the majority of the votes cast. Graduate assistants regardless of their position on unions should vote. A personal decision not to vote in the election will not allow an individual graduate assistant to opt out of union membership. If the union is successful, all graduate assistants covered under the petition, whether they vote or not, will be henceforth represented by the United Auto Workers and no longer have an autonomous relationship with Boston College. Also, all graduate assistants will be required to pay a portion of their salary/stipend in dues to the United Auto Workers.
Moreover, a typical practice of the United Auto Workers on university campuses has been to promise graduate students that certain benefit and compensation levels will be achieved once the union is formed. It is perfectly acceptable for faculty supervisors to inform graduate students that in collective bargaining neither side is required to agree to what the other side proposes, although the parties must bargain in good faith.
Finally, and most importantly, nothing precludes faculty members from discussing with their students the importance of the academic relationship. A faculty member is free to discuss what he or she values in his or her relationship with graduate assistants.
I understand the special place and role graduate assistants play in our Boston College community. The University is respectful of the process in which we are currently engaged and we believe that it is important for all members of our community to understand the consequences and opportunities of the choice before them. I hope these guidelines assist you in navigating the next couple of weeks with your graduate assistants. If you have any questions or concerns, I invite you to contact me directly and I will do my very best to provide the information you desire.
Thank you for all you do for Boston College and our students.
Best personal regards,
Vice President for Human Resources