Press Release

Brown University Graduate Employees Sign Landmark Union Agreement with Administration

Pact to form union sidesteps Trump labor board, creates pathway for election, collective bargaining and historic first contract

For Release: 

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Andrew Crook
o: 202-393-8637 | c: 607-280-6603

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—The labor union for graduate employees at Brown University, Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees, signed an agreement today with the university for a free and fair union election for 1,400 graduate teaching and research assistants on campus.

The pact—among the first of its kind—creates formal procedures, voter eligibility guidelines and a dispute resolution mechanism to help guide the election and the collective bargaining process. The American Arbitration Association will oversee the union vote, expected to take place in the fall.

A strong majority of Brown graduate workers, including master’s students, have pledged their support for SUGSE.  

The agreement operates outside the scope of the Trump National Labor Relations Board. It comes after graduate workers at Georgetown University inked a similar agreement with their administration in April. If SUGSE wins the election, the union will negotiate one of the first collective bargaining agreements for graduate employees at a private university in the United States.

Lubabah Chowdhury, third-year graduate assistant in English, said: "This pre-election agreement is a win not only for grad workers at Brown, but across the country. Grad workers at Brown have shown that student activism and organizing can and does effect real change. I am excited to vote for a union that will protect all graduate students from sexist and racist harassment and discrimination, and from exploitative working conditions, and will empower us to fight for urgent and necessary changes in higher education."

Babak Hemmatian, a fourth-year graduate assistant in cognitive, linguistic and psychological Sciences, said: "This agreement shows that even at a time when institutional protections for employees in general, and for marginalized groups in particular, are being rolled back at an unprecedented pace, communities can come together and work toward giving their members a more prominent role through a respectful and democratic process."

SUGSE is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “I am so proud of the Brown grads who’ve organized tirelessly for more than two years to get to this point. Their tenacity exemplifies what can be achieved when workers unite to make possible what is impossible for individuals acting alone. The AFT wants the grads to have the voice they need to secure the conditions they and their students deserve. And we will have their backs during their election, bargaining and beyond.

Weingarten continued: “I am heartened that the Brown administration decided to avoid the Trumpian low road favored by some of their peers. This pact—together with the agreement forged at Georgetown earlier this year—stands as a model for graduate labor relations under a hostile board. It shows that regardless of who’s in power in Washington, grad employees can collaborate to make universities better places to teach and learn.”

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.