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Graduate worker strike continues: everything to know about BUGWU so far

The Boston University Graduate Workers Union has entered its 10th week of striking against the BU administration. 

Beginning March 25, the union has picketed to demand changes to its workers’ contracts and benefits. This includes higher wages, comprehensive healthcare, childcare funding and workload protections. 

Protestors and members of the Boston University Graduate Workers Union march down Commonwealth Avenue toward 1 Silber Way during a walkout on May 1. BUGWU, which has been on strike since March 25, demands higher waves, comprehensive healthcare, childcare funding and workload protections from the University’s administration. KATE KOTLYAR/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Formally becoming a union

BUGWU held its first rally bidding for unionization on Sept. 20, 2022. About a month later, a majority of graduate workers filed for union authorization cards with the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board. 

On Dec. 7, 2022, 98% of BU graduate workers voted to unionize with Service Employees International Union Local 509, a union organization representing nearly 20,000 educators and human service workers in Massachusetts. After the union was finalized, BU was required to bargain with union representatives over contract terms and conditions. The first bargaining session took place June 9, 2023.

Negotiations and rallies during fall 2023 

On Sept. 14, 2023, the University tentatively agreed to BUGWU’s proposition for a separability article but did not offer counterproposals for BUGWU’s other requests. A separability article makes each clause of an agreement between two parties independent — if new legislation invalidates a section of the agreement, only that section would be void. 

A few weeks later, on Oct. 10, 2023, BUGWU proposed three articles regarding regular paydays, Joint Labor-Management Committee and work assignments. The BU bargaining team then held a caucus to discuss the proposals. 

Ten days later, BUGWU joined the BU ResLife Union and the adjunct faculty in a three-day rally as a demonstration of the unions’ solidarity. 

In the final bargaining session of 2023, BUGWU requested two bargaining sessions per month for the spring 2024 semester. BU responded with tentative dates to meet once a month. 

Counterproposals from the University

At a negotiation session on Jan. 24, BU presented four counterproposals addressing a Joint Labor-Management Committee, work assignments, performance evaluations and professional development. 

On Feb. 15, BUGWU called for a general membership meeting following another bargaining session to determine if the union should start a strike authorization vote. 

BU administration requested another bargaining session for Feb. 16. At this meeting, the University presented revised counterproposals. The parties made a tentative agreement regarding a Joint Labor-Management Committee. 

BUGWU votes and authorizes strike

On Feb. 27, BUGWU announced a strike authorization vote would take place from Feb. 28 to March 11. The BUGWU bargaining team would consider authorizing a strike if a majority voted in favor, according to a BUGWU newsletter.

The decision came after eight months of bargaining with the University, which yielded little difference in the “status quo” and the University’s failure “to provide the information we need in order to negotiate effectively,” according to the newsletter. Contract negotiations continued throughout the voting process.

On March 12, BUGWU announced on its Instagram that 90% of graduate workers voted in favor of a strike. 

“The students in BUGWU are also our students, and we care deeply about their success and working life at Boston University and seek to create conditions that will support their progress,” wrote Interim Provost Kenneth Lutchen in an email to undergraduate students a week after the strike authorization. 

Graduate worker strike commences

The BUGWU strike began March 25 with a rally at Marsh Plaza, which attracted support from undergraduate students, professors and local politicians.

Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren attended the rally to voice their support for the graduate workers. On the social media platform X, Bernie Sanders called for BU to “bargain a fair contract immediately” with the union. 

Strike support and negotiations continue

On March 26, the Office of the Provost sent BU faculty and staff an email stating the University will not be paying striking students.

In response to the email, BU faculty and staff created a petition against the University which received more than 160 signatures. 

On March 27, Boston City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of BUGWU. 

Students and faculty expressed concern after College of Arts and Sciences Dean Stan Scarloff sent an email to his colleagues on March 27 suggesting the use of artificial intelligence tools to replace striking graduate workers. The email was obtained and verified by The Daily Free Press.

BU spokesperson Colin Riley denied that BU encouraged replacing graduate workers with AI, as previously reported by The Daily Free Press.  

Closing out the third week of the strike, the BU ResLife Union announced that it would join BUGWU for a four-day strike over the Boston Marathon weekend. 

On April 23, BUGWU posted a statement to Instagram stating SEIU Local 509 filed two unfair labor practice charges against BU. The statement cited three unfair labor practices and alleged BU engaged in “reckless strikebreaking efforts.” 

In response to an April 29 email from the provost that said 80% of BUGWU workers had gone back to work, BUGWU called on the BU community to join striking graduate workers in a walkout. BUGWU claimed 94.9% of graduate workers had voted to strike for the fifth week. 

Recent updates

While BU Commencement took place on Nickerson Field on May 19, graduate workers picketed in front of Agganis Arena. 

According to BUGWU member Nive Senthilvel, she and other graduate workers haven’t received payment in eight weeks and continue to bargain with the University. 

“We’re not trying to ruin the experience for students or anything like that,” Senthilvel said. “This is our commencement, too. We want students to be aware that they’re graduating, but the people who made their college experience possible continue to work here and continue to fight for living wages and good working conditions.” 

Megan Amato contributed reporting.

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