Our election agreement: one step closer to a vote!

SUGSE and Provost Locke have signed an agreement that allows us to hold an election without the interference of Trump’s Labor Board. This agreement comes after more than a year of work, and will empower PhD and Masters graduate workers to vote for a union and bargain collectively over our working conditions.

Reaching this election agreement independent from Trump’s Labor Board is a huge step forward toward securing a seat at the table where decisions are made about our healthcare, our stipends, our libraries, and our grievances.

We negotiated this agreement, but it wasn’t only won at the table. Through our “Let Us Vote” rally, a presence during commencement, and most importantly by building majority support for a union through face to face conversations with graduate workers like you, we demonstrated the need for a meaningful democratic process. We’re not done yet. If you’re ready to join the active organizing effort or have questions about this process, please email us and we’ll be in touch shortly!

Get ready for an election!

Union Affiliation Vote Information





Original Post:

Dear Fellow Graduate Student Employees,

As you may know, there is an on-going effort to organize a union of research assistants (RAs) and teaching assistants (TAs), to advocate for grad employee rights and protections at Brown University. We thank the Graduate Student Council for supporting the involvement of all grads in this choice and look forward to continuing to work together throughout and beyond this decision.

As part of this process, SUGSE’s Affiliation working group has been hard at work the past few months talking to graduate students at other universities and negotiating with potential union affiliates. A comprehensive, 35-page report of this process and their findings is available on our website. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to read it all. But it’s there if you want to!)

We are fundamentally committed to an inclusive, democratic, and transparent unionization process. To this end, we are holding an open affiliation vote. The vote:

  • …Will determine which national union we affiliate with as graduate students.
  • …Will be held using a secure online system from Sunday, March 19th 6:00pm to Tuesday, March 21st 6:00pm.
  • …Will be open to all current Brown Ph.D. and Masters students who register using this linked form* by Monday, March 20th 6:00pm (more details in the link). Note that in response to feedback from the community SUGSE members have collectively agreed to open the vote to non-members who register.

Right now, you might be unfamiliar with the unionization process and the significance of this vote. That’s ok! Our hope is that this will be the first of many opportunities to learn about and participate in workplace democracy.

Volunteers have prepared the following introductory materials:


We’re excited to share what we’ve learned, and hope you will join us in building a stronger grad community! Feel free to reach us by email at standupforgrads@gmail.com!

In solidarity,

Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees

SUGSE is an anti-racist, feminist, labor organization that advocates for graduate worker rights and protections at Brown.
*This is *not* a legal document or petition, and this does not commit you to a decision about unionization or a contract. Registering on this form simply indicates that you support the goal of forming an inclusive, democratic, and transparent labor union that holds feminism and anti-racism as values.

SUGSE Title IX Demands


The following letter was recently posted on Blue Stockings:

Dear Brown University Community and Alumni,

We no longer have a functioning Title IX Office, and we do not know why. Amanda Walsh, former Title IX Program Officer, and Jessica Katz, former Title IX Investigator, the two staff members that made up the entirety of the Title IX Office, have resigned. The office is now being temporarily run by the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, an office that is overburdened and has neither the expertise needed to address Title IX cases nor the lawyers to do so. Furthermore, the university has refused to adequately inform Brown community members about this change or lay out a timeline or process for addressing these empty positions. We demand:

  • A letter that announces the departure of both members of the Title IX Office immediately. This letter should include: 1) A timeline and process the University will commit to for filling these positions with permanent staff. Ad hoc employment of investigators is not sufficient. 2) A list of current resources available to students. 3) A clear protocol during this temporary and transitional period for students who need Title IX Office resources, especially pertinent legal assistance.
  • That the office be staffed by individuals who can fulfill all of the roles, in addition to the roles that Amanda and Jessica took on, needed to make the Title IX Office an accessible and efficient resource for all students. We demand at least three licensed, trained, and permanent staff to handle the large load of cases the Office has faced by the beginning of Fall 2017.
  • The hiring of a community resource representative to advocate and address the needs of those who file a Title IX complaint throughout the entirety of applicable Title IX processes outlined here by Fall 2017.

These demands represent the bare minimum of what Brown community members should expect in terms of transparency and administrative support, especially for something as vital to the equitable functioning of the University as the Title IX Office. Join us in solidarity to petition for these demands.

As President Paxson has stated, “Every instance of sexual assault at Brown is an egregious violation of our community values. I urge each and every one of you to contribute to addressing sexual violence.” Let’s hold President Paxson accountable to her own commitment to end sexual assault and sexual harassment on Brown’s campus.

In solidarity,
Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE)

Open Letter to the Executive Board of the Brown GSC

Dear GSC Executive Board,

We recently received the FAQs you sent out (link at bottom). The view of many SUGSE members is that, very much to your credit, they offered a vast improvement on the administration’s FAQs.

However, we want to point out that the dichotomy you pose between “pro-union” and “anti-union” can be misleading. There are good and bad unions. We can have a union that operates democratically to build genuine community and power, or we can have its opposite. Members of SUGSE are unequivocally striving to build the first kind of union and are fully aware of the dangers of the second kind.

Additionally, there are two major things we wish were included. The first is that there are a number of published studies that show that across qualitative and quantitative measures, graduate students at unionized schools are better off. An excellent recent resource is this paper by Rogers, Eaton & Voos (2013).

Second, you mention 6th year funding, health insurance, dental insurance, and graduate student seats on the diversity and inclusion oversight board as ways in which Brown addresses our concerns. However, we wish you had mentioned these were all won through collaboration among student advocacy groups, including SUGSE. For example, the positions on the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee resulted from a concerted effort by six groups: the Samuel M. Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association, Graduate Students of Color Collective, Queer Students of Color Collective, Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE), the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), and the Concerned Graduate Students of Color (CGSC). Additionally, last year’s graduate student worker survey, which revealed numerous labor-related concerns facing our community, was one of many GSC-SUGSE collaborations.

At multiple points in recent history, graduate student workers have come together to gain real wins and work for the common good. SUGSE’s vision of a graduate student union at Brown is a continuation of this through our (for now) legal right to negotiate a formal contract. In the future, we hope you fully acknowledge the past work done by graduate students both in and outside of the channels of the GSC. We understand this can be difficult because of institutional amnesia, but it is nonetheless necessary for knowing how to effect real change in the future.

As always, thank you for all the work you do for our community. In these troubled times, we believe it is important to both work together to build strong democratic institutions, protect the vulnerable, and uplift all of us. Key to this is constructively criticizing — and listening to — one another.

In Solidarity,

Members of SUGSE

Link to GSC Executive Board FAQs

Grad Student Unionization #SUGSE Facts

SUGSE compiled this FAQ based on a list distributed to our peers organizing at University of Chicago. The Provost’s Office at Brown recently released a very similar list. Please use the list below to get SUGSE’s take on #adminfacts and what a union can do for graduate student employees. We will be updating this list with more information so be on on the look out!

Q: What is a union?

A: A union is a group of workers who, through organized collective power, have a voice in shaping their work conditions. Unions are one way that workers can formally express and work towards achieving their vision of an equitable, fair, and respectful workplace. A union is only as strong and powerful as its members—collective power and effective organizing is what wins a meaningful seat at the table. For example, in spring 2015, SUGSE won dental insurance for all PhDs through an effective, multi-month campaign. Our collective power, rather than official representation through a union, won increased benefits for grads. An official contract would ensure that improvements to our working conditions, like dental, are protected in the future, but it must be part of—rather than a substitute for—collective grad power.

Q: What would a union do for me as a graduate student?

A: A union would  give graduate students  meaningful control over the terms of their working conditions. Currently, graduate students have no real power over their stipend benefits number of hours required each week grievance mechanisms for addressing discrimination or leave policies such as family leave. The administration can change our packages at any point without any negotiation or even notice to grad students. As we have seen over the years this makes it incredibly difficult to  compel the administration to listen to our real concerns much less meaningfully address them. It also makes us vulnerable to changes that benefit the University more than they benefit graduate students. For example, in the summer of 2013 then graduate school dean Peter Weber unilaterally placed a cap on the number of hours graduate students could work at on-campus jobs, asserting that this was in our best interest because it insured that we would dedicate all of our time to finishing our dissertations as soon as possible. While we hope and trust that Dean Campbell will take the many issues that define our lives while pursuing graduate work seriously, trust and hope will not  guarantee better working conditions for graduate students. Through a union graduate students will be able to meaningfully negotiate the terms of their employment with the administration as equals and the University will be compelled by law to respond to our terms.

Q: What would a union prevent me from doing?

A: This is a question the administration might ask to make it seem like a union will limit your autonomy as a graduate student. In fact, union representation gives graduate students more of a say and greater control over their working conditions. Remember, a union is only as strong as its members—graduate students would not be negotiating with the union, they would be negotiating with the administration about their working conditions. A better question might be: What would a union prevent the University from doing? In the broadest sense, the answer is that it would prevent the University from making changes to our stipends, benefits, and work requirements as they please. Upon successful negotiation of a contract between the union and the University, the University would have to follow the terms of the contract. This would “prevent” the University from putting its own interests before the interests of graduate students.

Q: If graduate research assistants in the sciences are included in the bargaining unit, could their hours be capped?

A: We sure hope so. Having a clear and enforceable cap on the hours we have to work is a key item of negotiation between the union and the administration. We know that students in the sciences are especially in need of reasonable and transparent working hours, regardless of their funding source. Just because you are being funded by your advisers’ grant does not mean they should have complete control and power over your work life. Given how many students in the sciences are expected to TA even when their external grant prohibits this doubling up of labor, SUGSE is committed to including science students in the bargaining unit in order to bring the 8 hour work day to the lab.

Q: If there were a union, could graduate students sit on departmental or school committees?

A: Of course. Unions cannot possibly replace all of the University work that happens on committees and within organizations such as the Graduate Student Council (GSC). A graduate student union would work closely with these committees and especially the GSC on graduate work related issues.

Q: How could a union impact the grievance process?

A: At Brown, a graduate student union would mean that graduate students, for the first time, would have an actual mechanism with which to formally address their grievance. Currently, graduate student concerns are most likely to end up at various administrators’ desks whose respective responses seems to depend more on personality than any formalized process. More often than not, concerns are met with a sympathetic conversation that does little to change the facts of the situation. The administration also tends to tell graduate students that they need to take up their issue with faculty, and that they are powerless to “make faculty change.”

A union would change all of this. It would formalize work protections and expectations for all involved, making what are currently treated as individual issues contract items that all parties have agreed to follow. If someone violated the terms of the contract, graduate students would be able to initiate a grievance in accordance with the grievance and arbitration process outlined in the contract. They would do so in conjunction with Union representatives to ensure that all parties are complying with the process. Any violation of the contract can be remedied through this grievance process. That is why it is so important to develop a robust contract that speaks to the many issues that impact our working conditions.

Q: Can a union bargain over student fees?

A: Yes.

Q: What impact could a union have on off-site research activities (e.g. conference/workshop attendance, field work, or research conducted at other universities) that are essential activities for our academic program?

A: Ideally, a union will ensure that off-site research activities will be accounted for and compensated by the University. Rather than applying to one-off conference grants through your department and the graduate school, a contract could stipulate that these activities are A) considered part of your job as a graduate student employee and B) must be reimbursed at a certain rate by the University. For example, graduate students at NYU are now entitled to the research and travel terms provided to faculty.

Q: If I am a graduate student but not included in the bargaining unit, how will a union impact my graduate student experience?

A: We hope that as working conditions improve for graduate students represented by a union, they will also improve for graduate students who are not unionized. If we successfully negotiate a contract, the terms of that contract will necessarily raise the bar for what the University has to provide its workers. We are are hopeful that this raises expectations for equitable treatment for all workers at the University.

Q: Many state Universities have unions. Wouldn’t it just be the same here?

A: In a word, yes. Graduate students at public and private universities perform the same types of labor. Because of this, graduate students at both types of institutions need and benefit from formal labor protections and agreed upon terms of employment. Administrations at private universities might argue that our roles are different because students at public universities may do more teaching and researching to fund their way through their PhDs. This is a false–and elitist–distinction that appeals to the benevolence of private administrations in order to convince us that we A) perform little or no academic labor for the University and B) do not need formal work conditions as a result.

Q: At institutions where graduate students are unionized, what have been the positive statements and complaints expressed about the existing union?

A: Graduate students at NYU recently won formal recognition from the University and successfully negotiated a contract. They are entitled to a set salary with a 2.5% pay raise each year, a set wage for any work performed in addition to their teaching or research, health and dental benefits, child care funds, paid vacation time, non-discrimination, grievance procedures, and paid work-related expenses that are the same as the faculty rate. While university administrations may try to say that the verdict is still out on whether or not graduate student unions are good for graduate education, we think this list of formalized work expectations and protections speaks for itself. We also know that transparency around work expectations provided by a contract greatly de-personalizes and de-romanticizes academic labor. We think this is good for graduate students AND faculty so that there is no chance for misunderstanding, abuse of power, or manipulation around graduate student labor. When everyone is clear on what the university and the union have agreed to, we get a lot of clarity about the fact that academic labor is labor (not just a pursuit of the mind and heart) and that there are processes in place to ensure that work gets done fairly and equitably.

Q: What are the alternatives to unionizing?

A: We have experienced one alternative to unionizing for a number years, and that is being subject to the political agendas and economic incentives of the University regardless of whether they are in our best interests or not. SUGSE believes that only a union fueled by collective graduate student power can make Brown a more equitable, respectful, and fulfilling place to work. It will provide transparency around decision-making that currently does not exist, and provide a mechanism for accountability that right now exists only through bursts of courageous student protest. We need a sustainable model of meaningful representation that can meet our demands and needs so that we can make it through our PhD programs successfully, and with our humanity in tact.

Q: How is the union chosen? Who decides which union will represent graduate students?

A: The workers organizing generally choose an established union to affiliate with, but workers can also start their own unions. Graduate students at private universities have affiliated with the United Auto Workers, the American Federation of Teachers, and Unite Here!. Graduate students at Brown are still deciding who to affiliate with. Ultimately, all graduate students at Brown have a say in whether or not to establish a union with a local or national chapter because forming a union requires a vote.

Q: What are authorization cards? How are they used in the unionization process?

A: Authorization cards or “union cards” are cards you can sign to declare your support during a union drive. They typically represent your intent to vote yes on unionizing in an official election. Union cards help organizers gauge support for unionization, but, they also allow you to become a member before the official vote. Your signature on a SUGSE card makes you a member of SUGSE.

Q: How do unions obtain the right to represent employees?

A: Once there are enough signed union cards to represent significant interest in forming a union, the union can file a “representation petition” with the nearest National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Office. This can happen when at least 30% of employees have indicated support for unionization. The NLRB will then arrange a secret ballot election. If the union receives a majority of votes (50 percent plus one vote), it is certified as the workers’ bargaining representative. The employer must recognize the union as the exclusive bargaining agent for all workers in the bargaining unit.

Q: If there is an election, when will it be held?

A: Typically, elections are held on the earliest practicable date after a NLRB Director’s order or authorization. (For more information visit: https://www.nlrb.gov/what-we-do/conduct-elections).

Q: What is the election process?

A: Once a representation petition is filed, the employer is required to post a Notice of Petition for Election in “conspicuous places, including through electronic means if this is how the employer typically communicates with employees. NLRB agents will coordinate between the employer, union, and other relevant parties in setting the date, time, and place for balloting, the ballot language(s), the appropriate unit, and a method to determine who is eligible to vote. Observers from all parties may choose to be present when ballots are counted. (For more information visit: https://www.nlrb.gov/what-we-do/conduct-elections).

Q: Can an election ever be postponed?

A: An election may be postponed if a party requests to block the petition based on charges alleging conduct that would interfere with employee free choice in the election, such as threatening loss of jobs or benefits by an employer or a union, granting promotions, pay raises, or other benefits to influence the vote. (For more information visit:  https://www.nlrb.gov/what-we-do/conduct-elections).

Q: Who should vote?

A: Every member of the specified bargaining unit should vote.

Q: Will students have access to a draft of the proposed contract or a list of provisions that would be negotiated prior to a vote on unionization?

A: A contract can only be negotiated after an election is won. However, member participation is integral to determining what gets included in a contract. It is important that graduate students start discussing potential contract items in the lead up to the election so that the contract reflects our workplace priorities.

Q: Could graduate students “opt out” of the union by not voting?

A: Every graduate student included in the bargaining unit will become a member of the union if there is a “yes” vote.

Q: If there is an election and graduate students vote NOT to unionize, can graduate students have another election at a later date?

A: Yes. A petition for a new election can be filed after one year.

Q: If an election results in representation by a union, then could there be another election to remove the union?

A: Yes. Just like workers can petition to elect union representation, they can petition to decertify and a decertification election will be held. A petition of decertification can be filed after a contract expires or if the contract has been in effect for three or more years. (For more information visit:  http://ucnet.universityofcalifornia.edu/labor/faq.html#3_8).

Q: Who will be in a union at Brown?

A: SUGSE will determine the bargaining unit once it affiliates with a local or national union. Members of a bargaining unit must have enough in common that they are deemed to share a “community of interest.” SUGSE is committed to creating a bargaining unit that represents as many graduate students as possible.

Q: Would status as an international graduate student impact eligibility to be included in the union?

A: No. International graduate students can participate in all union-related activities, including organizing and membership.


SUGSE + GSC Survey Results Are In…And Grads See Themselves as Students and Workers!

We made you this handy dandy infographic for easy reading. Highlights include:

  • The majority of graduate students understand themselves to be students AND workers!
  • Work assignments are not consistent across departments or funding source
  • International students are disproportionately impacted by inconsistent work assignments
  • 9 out of 10 graduate students have a positive relationship with faculty!
  • 3 out of 10 graduate students do not feel comfortable negotiating the terms of their work load with faculty

SUGSE is organizing all summer to gain greater control over our working conditions. Join us!


SciLi Worker Solidarity


From Brown Student Labor Alliance:

The Library Administration is moving forward with a plan to further reduce services and staffing in the Sciences Library. The plan will cut library hours from 100 to 70 and staff from 4.5 positions to 2 positions, thus leaving the SciLi understaffed.

Harriette Hemmasi, the head University Librarian, has stated, “I have always been proud of the ways in which the entire Library staff works collectively to meet the evolving demands of the community we serve, and I am excited to continue our progress toward a system that enhances the ability of users to access scholarly content and connect with Library services.”

This statement that was sent in an email to the Brown community neglects the fact that neither the library or University administration has centered the concerns of library workers or allowed for community input throughout these changes.

If you have not shared or signed this petition yet, please do so!

Open Letter on Graduate Student Employee Unionization


Members and affiliates of Stand Up For Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE)—an anti-racist, feminist advocacy organization for graduate student worker rights—have begun a campaign to unionize graduate student workers at Brown. We wanted to take the opportunity to explain our reasons, to state our best intentions, and to invite all of Brown’s community members to work with us as partners in improving the quality and security of the lives of the hundreds of graduate students from around the world who have accepted Brown’s invitation to research and teach in Providence.

Over the last several years, we at SUGSE have sought to improve working conditions for graduate students. We’ve successfully fought for more options and transparency in the late-year funding processes, for dental insurance for graduate workers, and rallied against the institutional racism which has made Brown a hostile working environment for many. Our image as concerned advocates is widely felt; at SUGSE, we have frequently found that our fellow students, wanting a way to redress entrenched problems, come to us for help as though we actually already are their union. And the problems they bring to us are many. We’ve heard accounts from graduate workers asked to be on call twenty-four hours a day to their laboratories; of graduate students given the herculean task of serving as teaching assistants to one hundred undergraduates, each writing weekly papers; of graduate students who have faced sexual harassment from faculty and who have thereafter been denied requests as simple as changing their T.A. assignments or amending the precise order in which they must pursue required coursework. Our fellow students face personal reprisals on account of faculty hostility to their diversity initiatives, report the institution’s incapacity to reckon with their visa and international travel problems, and testify to the myriad ways in which the institution over-burdens and under-serves teaching and research assistants…

Continue reading “Open Letter on Graduate Student Employee Unionization”

Survey on Grad Student Work & Professional Development


We have collaborated with the GSC to produce the following brief survey on impressions of graduate student work and professional development at Brown.

This survey is meant to accomplish three things:

  1. to identify trends and areas of concern pertaining to graduate student work and professional development;
  2. to prioritize actionable items for continued advocacy efforts for the benefit of all graduate students; and
  3. to foster a spirit of community, collaboration, and communication among all graduate students and organizations.

Your support on these efforts will help us and graduate student leaders in other groups find ways to work together on improving graduate education and experience at Brown. The survey is anonymous and should take about 5 minutes to complete.

At the end of the survey, you will have an opportunity to provide detailed comments, feedback, and concerns. There is also the chance to enter a separate raffle for a “summer swag bag” (including a Brown University beach towel and more summery items) from the Brown Bookstore. Four (4) winners will be selected at random after the survey closes on March 31st, so enter and spread the word to your graduate student peers!


Read-In & Speak-Out @ Feedback on the Front Lawn

Feedback on the Front Lawn Poster12/4/15
12 – 3
in front of university hall

Sign Up Here to Read!

In conjunction with the closing of the draft of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, we invite the entire campus community to join us for an afternoon of “feedback” and hear: recitations of demands and recommendations submitted by Brown University student groups; the publications from Mizzou, Yale, and other universities across the nation who are also demanding more of their institutions; the thoughtfully drafted critiques of Brown Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion plan; and the scholarship that both critiques the present moment and offers ideas for imagining otherwise.

But we need your voice to make it work.

Please sign up for the time and reading of your choosing. Grads, undergrads, faculty, adjuncts, staff, PVD community members welcome.

Not sure what you want to share? Check out this list of potential readings.