Graduate students form union
AU grad students first in DC area to greenlight private university unionization
AU’s graduate student workers voted Monday to form the District’s first union for working graduate students, following months of discussion with administrators.
The students will join Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, which also represents AU’s adjunct faculty, according to a press release issued Monday by the union group.
Graduate students had been meeting since September to discuss some of their concerns, including fair pay, better benefits and stricter protection against unprofessionalism such as stalking them on Facebook from supervisors. On Feb. 1, a group of the students filed for an election to unionize. Monday’s election passed with a vote of 212 to 40, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will certify the results after seven days, according to the union’s press release.
“[Monday’s] victory came after a long process of listening to the stories and concerns of graduate student workers at American University,” Scott Patrick, a first-year doctoral student in government and comparative politics, said in the press release. “Forming a union was never about quick fixes to issues, but about creating a space for developing long term solutions to issues like economic and academic uncertainty."
Now that the group’s unionization efforts have been approved, they will soon conduct surveys and focus groups to determine where students’ priorities lie, Patrick said. Later, they will discuss these results with University administrators.
Patrick supports the unionization because he believes that sitting down with the administration will improve working conditions, such as not working overtime without being paid, and not accepting “barbaric” treatment, such as being inappropriately reprimanded by supervising faculty.
“I truly believe that this will be a collaborative process, focused on strengthening the academic mission of American University,” Patrick said in the press release.
Some University administrators have expressed reservations about campus-wide unionization because they feel that graduate students who work are doing so as part of their education, Dr. Jonathan Tubman, Vice Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies, said in an interview with The Eagle. However, Tubman said the administration plans to respect the graduate students’ wishes.
“The University does not intend to file a legal challenge to the election results. Graduate students are highly valued in our community,” Tubman said.
Since AU’s adjunct professors are already represented by the SEIU Local 500, Tubman said he expects a smooth transition for the graduate students as well.
“Negotiations are going to move forward,” Tubman said.
AU’s adjunct professors organized a union with SEIU Local 500 in 2012 to have more say in the terms of their employment, said adjunct professor Kamal Beyoghlow, who teaches in the School of Public Affairs. Beyoghlow is the representative of all adjuncts for SPA.
He also said that he does not anticipate any challenges with the newly formed campus union.
“The administration on campus has been extremely helpful to adjuncts and I believe they will be extremely helpful to graduate students as well,” Beyoghlow said. “We have a very constructive relationship with management and the administration.”
While Patrick sees AU as the beginning of a bigger movement in higher education, Beyoghlow thinks that the management on campus is very progressive compared to other schools in the D.C. area.
“The University has been really advanced and have been very responsive to adjuncts for this area of the country,” he said. “I don’t see any problems moving forward with them.”