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Despite ruling, BU grad students yet to unionize

With a recent court ruling permitting graduate students to unionize in universities across America, college administrators may be forced to accept Teaching Fellows as not just students, but employees as well.

This latest decision will force Boston University graduate employees — including teaching, graduate and research assistants — to consider the possible benefits of collective bargaining.

While public university graduate student employees have had the right to unionize for over 20 years, the recent National Labor Relations Board ruling — giving graduate students at private universities the right to collectively bargain — is setting off a nationwide trend.

New York University students voted for unionization this month. Decisions are pending at schools such as the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Even public universities are following suit. Earlier this month, students at the University of Massachusetts at Boston favored a union proposal by an overwhelming majority.

“We are very concerned with providing the right kind of support for our graduate students,” said Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Jay Scott Whitikier.

According to a 1998 Boston University Graduate Student Organization survey, graduate students were most concerned with funding and representation, two of the issues cited nationally by students as reasons for unionizing. Ninety-one percent of respondents supported having a graduate representative to the University administration.

While BU graduate students have yet to pursue organizing, some said they see the benefits of being unionized.

“I am sure [unions are] a good thing. I have heard a lot about the issue through other schools, and TAs seem to be getting more of what they want,” said School of Education graduate student Jen Aber.

Collective bargaining can result in benefits including dental and health care coverage and salary increases.

Whitikier said a goal of the GSO is to give graduate students what they “deserve.”

“We have been working with students to hear their concerns, and the GSO believes our health care program is already a good deal,” Whitikier said. According to the 1998 survey, most students “liked and preferred” the health insurance plan already offered by the University.

College administrators regularly cite drawbacks of unionization, such as formalized working liaisons between faculty mentors and graduate students, which are brought about union regulations, and the increased cost taken on by the school resulting from increased salaries.

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