Ratifying our constitution

After years of organizing and taking action together, graduate workers at Brown are finally starting the academic year with a fair contract! For the first time, there are enforceable provisions protecting our working hours, our wages, our health benefits, our right to respect in the workplace, to name a few. Congratulations on these huge wins!

With our contract negotiated, we can now take on new projects: holding Brown accountable to the commitments made in the contract, ensuring the university community is protected from the covid-19 pandemic, reimagining safety and realizing racial justice at Brown, and so much more.

Before we embark on these projects, we will need to ratify a constitution that governs the basic functions of our union and elect union leadership who will take on key responsibilities of running the organization each of us has helped to build. Members are invited to join a constitution town hall to be held Wednesday September 2nd at 6 pm, at which we will go over the basic features of this document and undertake some activities to demonstrate how we can make use of it to fight for what we need at Brown. We will also discuss a proposed budget so members can make an informed decision about how much revenue we need to collect to support our fights to make Brown a better place to work. We will circulate a draft of the constitution a few days ahead of the town hall. After the town hall, we will hold an online vote to ratify our constitution on September 3rd and 4th.

Please register for Wednesday’s town hall here. Our first election will be held by U.S. Mail, so please take a moment to update your mailing address here, even if you cannot attend the town hall event.



We are pleased to announce that members have ratified our collective bargaining agreement with university administration with a 95% yes vote. The final count was 446 yes to 25 no. This is a huge step toward securing rights and recognition for graduate workers at Brown, and the first collective bargaining agreement of its kind in the Ivy League. We’ll be reaching out in the coming weeks with ways to plug in and enforce our agreement.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Graduate assistants working over the summer should expect to see their raise reflected in their first paycheck after 1 July 2020.
  • Graduate workers should expect their $400 in COVID relief by 31 October 2020 paycheck.
  • Graduate workers with spouses, domestic partners, and children on their Brown healthcare and/or dental can expect 75% coverage to take effect 1 July 2020.

While working hard to secure this contract, we have also been gearing up for other important campaigns that affect our campus community, so that we can use our union power to fight for justice.

  • Reopening: Many research assistants are already back on campus, but grads have not had a real say in the process. If you would like to add your voice to the reopening conversation, please email Audrey Massmann at audreylmassmann@gmail.com to get plugged in.
  • Racial Justice: The Social Justice Working Group and the Organizing Committee are joining activists and organizers from various departments on demands to protect black lives. Please email standupforgrads@gmail.com to join the fight for racial justice on campus.

It’s been a pleasure representing graduate workers at the bargaining table. This is only the beginning.


The SUGSE Bargaining Committee
Kaity Hajdarovic, Co-chair
Rithika Ramamurthy, Co-chair
Gabriele Borg
Nicole Dusang
Marlon Jimenez Oviedo
Sierra Kaufman
Mirjam Paninski
Kaitlyn Quaranta
Siraj Sindhu
Max Weinreich

We won a contract!

Yesterday, the Bargaining Committee reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) for our first union contract! This contract represents a huge win for all graduate-student employees. We are the first grads at an Ivy League institution to win recognition of our status as workers and our value as contributors to the University’s mission. For this first 3 year contract, we’ve won the following: 
*Note: “Graduate workers” are grads who, as a component of receiving their stipend, receive work appointments at some point in their program.


  • Two-semester appointment extension in light of COVID-19 for third-, fourth-, fifth-, many sixth-year Ph.D students, and any other PhD student who has advanced to candidacy by the end of Spring 2020.
  • One-time $400 cash bonus for all graduate workers in light of financial pressure caused by the COVID crisis.
  • Grievance procedure with remedial measures outside of Title IX.
  • Relief for graduate-worker parents: more backup childcare, a better subsidy, and increased health care coverage.


  • We have one-year appointment extensions for those Ph.D students who have advanced to candidacy, and were in the research or dissertation phase of their program in spring semester 2020, and have not applied for graduation. We have established a committee with the University, with equal representation for graduate workers, to implement the extensions.
  • The University will reimburse medical expenses related to COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 treatment, effective July 1, 2020 through December 30, 2021 to all graduate-student workers on the Student Health Insurance Plan.
  • One-time $400 cash bonus for all graduate students in light of financial pressure caused by the COVID crisis.


  • Graduate workers will have an effective pay increase of 3.7% in year one.
    • We won a 2.5% stipend increase.
    • We won a one-time $400 cash bonus for all graduate students in light of financial pressure caused by the COVID crisis.
    • This raise comes at a time when most groups on campus are getting no pay raise or losing their raise
  • In year two and three, we have a guarantee that we will get a raise at least equivalent to the faculty raise, with the opportunity to negotiate for more.
  • We created a new job category, called TA II, to recognize TAs who are responsible for the teaching of a class. TA IIs will earn a top-up payment of $750, starting in the second year of the contract.
    • Teaching Fellows (instructors who design their own class) will earn a top-up of $1,000, up from $250 previously, in the second year of the contract.


Health care

  • 75% health care and dental coverage for all dependents of PhD and MFA graduate students, including spouses/partners; this number was previously 50% and only applied to children.
  • Establishment of a Health Reimbursement Plan for all graduate workers (or if unable to establish, will receive cash payment) for years 2 and 3 of contract, with respective amounts of $500 and $600.

For parents

  • Backup childcare increased to 10 days per year, up from 5.
  • Childcare subsidy increased to $5000 per child, per year. It was  $4,000 per year, per household.
  • If both parents are graduate student workers at Brown, both parents can utilize the parental relief accommodation.


  • We negotiated paid sick days, holidays, and bereavement leave.


  • We have created a strong grievance procedure to protect graduate workers from harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments, so that the University is not the sole party holding itself accountable.
  • We won protections from retaliation, and every claim of retaliation will be investigated.


  • Graduate workers will have access to remedial measures outside of Title IX, including no-contact orders and academic accommodations. If the University failed to provide adequate remedial measures, such inaction or wrongful action on their part would be grievable under the contract.


  • Graduate workers have protections against pressure to work more than 20 hours/week.
  • Departments will commit to family-friendly scheduling of work activities.
  • TAs and TA IIs will have final say on class size increases over established section size. 


  • We established TA IIs as a new job category in recognition of the higher workload some TAs face.
  • The University committed to sending appointment letters at least 1 month in advance of the start of classes.
  • Graduate workers will have access to textbooks, equipment, and software to complete work assignments.


Our contract will generally cover PhDs and Masters students who work as Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Research Assistants, and Proctors. 

Because of our work as a union through collective bargaining, the University has stated their intent to extend most of our contractual rights to all graduate students, regardless of their appointment. 


For more information, please register for our TA TownHall on Monday, June 8th,where our Bargaining Committee will go over all sections of the Tentative Agreement and take your questions.
Please remember to attend our GMM Thursday, June 4th at 6pm. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow, and are so proud and excited to keep growing our movement.

Livestream today!

Watch and share a livestream with workers whom Brown has left without a job. We begin in half an hour at noon EST at facebook.com/BrownSUGSE

Remember to like, share across platforms, and show support in the comments!  Questions for the laid off workers and other guests are also welcome and we will address some comments at the end (but keep in mind there is a delay between you commenting, us seeing your comments, and you hearing our replies!)
Let’s show Brown that they must not fire if they’re not going to hire!
For the rest of our week of action, click here!

SUGSE’s Week of Action for COVID Relief and a Contract

This coming week, our union, SUGSE, is planning 5 days of action, corresponding to our 5 demands for COVID relief, to make sure the university hears that grads need more support in the face of the disruptions caused by COVID. Click here to sign up to contribute your voice!


Monday, April 13 – Don’t fire if you won’t hire

Tuesday, April 14 – Free COVID treatment and paid sick leave

Wednesday, April 15 – Ensure equity, especially for international students and grad parents

Thursday, April 16 – An additional full calendar year with funding for all grads

Friday, April 17 – Contract now!


Click here to find out more and to sign up to contribute your voice. We need every voice to make sure we win the protections and benefits we need to do our work successfully.

Demands for Immediate Relief for Graduate Workers at Brown

Graduate student workers demand greater protections amidst the fast-changing and dramatic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. The closure of labs, interruption of fieldwork, and shuttering of libraries has impeded our academic progress. The cancellation of conferences and symposia has paused professionalization. Many of us have had to leave the country or take care of dependents, and some of us will become ill ourselves. The global recession will affect all graduate students approaching the job market. Brown has a responsibility to act quickly to minimize economic insecurity, provide better healthcare, and protect graduate students and other vulnerable university employees.

In order to protect graduate workers and our broader community, Brown must:

  1. Settle a fair contract,
  2. Provide a year-long extension of funding and increase summer funding,
  3. Ensure equity by protecting international grads’ visas and positions & providing one-time financial assistance to grad parents,
  4. Cover all costs of coronavirus testing and treatment & guarantee paid sick leave, and;
  5. Commit to a termination freeze for all university employees.

Click here, or scroll below, to read the detailed explanation of our Demands for Immediate Relief for Graduate WorkersIn the face of a global public health emergency, these demands represent the absolute minimum protections. We ask that the University immediately implement these provisions to protect public health and the well-being of the Brown graduate student community. RSVP to join us at the General Membership Meeting call next Weds. at 6 to start taking action to make this a reality!

We know that the changes we propose will require revising budgets, but our livelihoods are at stake. The dramatic impacts of COVID-19 aren’t an abstract threat; they are happening to us and our families, now. Brown can uphold its commitment to its graduate workers, and to the whole University community, by guaranteeing stability in this time of intense disruption.

Over the next few weeks we will be reaching out to grad workers individually to hear and share their stories. To any grad worker: SUGSE is here for you. To all workers on campus: we are in this together, and SUGSE stands in solidarity with you. To anyone who wants help organizing their coworkers: email standupforgrads@gmail.com and let’s make a plan.


Demands for Immediate Relief for Graduate Workers


  • 1. Contract now



Commit to quickly finishing a contract with SUGSE that would guarantee stable funding and support. The COVID-19 crisis accentuates the need for a recognized, independent union and a fixed-term contract for graduate student workers. With a settled contract, graduate workers can teach and complete research no matter what economic disruptions this crisis brings, and be confident in the university’s commitment to fair pay and benefits.



  • 2. Stop the clock and extend our funding 



Extend our employment, our positions in academic programs, and our visas by one full calendar year. Graduate students’ work and study have been radically disrupted. We are attempting to mitigate the strains of online-only teaching, cancelled fieldwork and research trips, delayed and collapsed experiments, and a frozen academic job market. Tuition-paying graduate students have invested thousands of dollars in their education and will miss out on crucial aspects of their training as well as face a severely constrained job market.  Many of us are now parenting full-time or caring for family members who are sick. We fear becoming sick ourselves. Normal progress toward degrees is impossible for most of us to sustain. 


Guaranteed full summer pay for graduate workers. Graduate students will still need to seek supplemental income over the summer, though opportunities for grants, fellowships, and other remunerated work will be reduced. Graduate students require full summer stipends comparable to their AY monthly stipends.



  • 3. Ensure equity



Protect international grads’ visa status while working and learning conditions change. Maintain stipend pay and insurance coverage for any graduate students  unable to return to the United States after returning home or traveling abroad for research. 


One-time special financial assistance for all graduate parents. Graduate student parents are facing some of the greatest interruptions in their ability to complete scholarly work and teach during the crisis. The university should double their child care subsidy through the next calendar year.

Guarantee that relief policies will be nondiscriminatory. Commit to protecting the interests and resources of underrepresented and minority graduate student workers.



  • 4. Protect our health



Fully cover the costs of COVID-19 testing, treatment, and eventual vaccination for grad workers and their dependents.  Extend healthcare and institutional affiliation by six months for graduating students. 


Keep the campus healthy and prevent the new infections by offering unlimited paid sick leave and paid family care leave for every Brown employee through the duration of the pandemic. 



  • 5. Commit to community


Don’t fire if you won’t hire. Commit to a termination and layoff freeze for all university employees to last at least as long as the university hiring freeze, and renew all current contracts, including those about to expire, for at least the length of the hiring freeze.

Bargaining update – 2/29/20

If you were at our cacerolazo this week, you know that we brought the noise! Almost a hundred and fifty graduate student workers and allies marched from the Van Wickle Gates, banging pots and pans and raising their voices together to say: CONTRACT NOW! The members of the bargaining committee went into that round of negotiations feeling strong and proud to represent your needs, and stood up to tough questions about what we want and why we deserve it. We were able to do this because of you.

The administration was forced to acknowledge the fact that they are not just dealing with a few people at the table, they are reckoning with a union that has support from a strong and growing base. They were unable to make a counter to our proposal and cancelled the session the following day. Now we won’t see them for another three weeks.

In that time, we need to continue to show the university that we are not going to settle for less than what we deserve. We deserve better wages, better benefits, and a fair contract—but we aren’t going to get these without a fight. It has become clear that if we want to win a contract, we have to keep standing up for one another and making ourselves seen and heard.

Come join us on the picket lines this month to make more noise and march for your union:

  • Our first PICKET on Thursday, March 5th at 12 PM on the main green! If you can’t be there, make sure to wear your Contract Now button or SUGSE t-shirt that day.
  • GENERAL MEMBERS MEETING on Wednesday, March 11th, in Friedman 101, to discuss next steps and strategies for finishing this thing! RSVP here to help us know how many to expect.
  • Even bigger and louder PICKETS on Thursdays, March 12th and 19th!
  • Our next round of bargaining will be on March 18th and 19th.

If we continue to demand together, we will win together!

In solidarity,

Bargaining update – 2/13/20

After months of meetings with the administration, we’re finally getting close to a contract we can be proud of. We’ve already won improved anti-discrimination protections, a grievance procedure, and, for the first time, clear definitions of our work responsibilities. Now, it’s time to fight for higher pay and better health care. It’s time for a contract. But we won’t get there unless the administration takes us seriously. If we want them to make concessions in negotiations, first we need them to see how many of us want to see a FAIR contract NOW!

At our General Members Meeting last week, the room was packed. We talked through our plan for the semester. We have actions planned every week from now until Spring Break. It’s ambitious, it depends on all our members getting involved, and it’s going to make the difference to get us the contract we deserve.

We’re asking you to come to our first major action of the semester, on Feb. 25th, 12:15 PM, gathering at Van Wickle Gates then going with the SUGSE bargaining committee their negotiations with Brown admin. This is going to be a CACEROLAZO: a rally where we make as much noise as we possibly can, with pots, with pans, with whatever you can bring. We’re going to show the administration how many people have a stake in this fight, in a way that they can’t ignore. Will you come make noise with us?
Please make sure to RSVP by filling out this commitment form.

We will also be holding regular leaflets and wear-a-button days, and if admin still won’t listen, we will start holding MASS PICKETS that they won’t be able to ignore. Please tell us if you can commit to participate in the cacerolazo and the pickets by filling out the commitment form.

This is a crucial phase of our negotiations. We need everyone to show up. And if you can help some more, we need your help by volunteering with SUGSE, by organizing colleagues in your department or lab, and by asking undergrads and faculty to support us. You can let us know what you can do on the commitment form. You can also promote the cacerolazo by sharing this Facebook event.

Let’s make some noise and win a fair contract now!

In Solidarity,
Max Weinreich, Mathematics

Bargaining Update – 10/30

We have been working very hard to get you the contract that you deserve, and we wanted to let you know where we are and what has changed. If you attend today’s General Membership Meeting, Wednesday 6:00 PM at 108 Friedman Hall, you’ll also get a chance to hear from our bargaining team members, so come by if you can.

As you know, we are in the middle of a national debate over our status in the university: whether we are workers or students. We believe that Graduate Student Employees work hard for the university, and that we should be recognized as such. To that end, we are making sure that our contract gives us rights and protections regarding our work at Brown. Yesterday, we reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) on our Appointments and Assignments Proposal, which requires departments to describe specific duties for assignments, delineate reasonable workload expectations, delimit class sizes, and deliver professional feedback and support for Graduate Student Employees. We also included a means of addressing discrepancies and concerns to the administration, so that we have a way to resolve issues when things are not working for us. This agreement took months of negotiation, and it was very hard won. We feel that we had to fight hard to have some control over our labor, but are optimistic that these changes will clarify and improve our working conditions for years to come.

Unfortunately, we are afraid the fight over our economic proposals may be even more difficult. As of now, the university seems unwilling to invest in areas that we think are fundamental to improving our quality of life, including vision insurance, lower mental health costs, increased parental support, and year-round salary. It seems that the administration is hoping that things remain the same as they are, save for some minimal and routine improvements on their terms. We are not satisfied with the status quo, and we will not settle for anything less than what we deserve. In the next few months, we promise to press on in the struggle to secure a better paycheck and benefits that reflect the value of our work. We truly believe that we can win this thing, and we will keep fighting the good fight until we do!

In solidarity,
Rithika Ramamurthy
Ph.D. Candidate

Update on NLRB and Bargaining

We are continuing to fight for your contract this semester, and we have some serious news to share.

On Tuesday, we reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) on our grievance procedure. This proposal will offer graduate workers the means with which to address systemic insufficiences relating to our working conditions, appointments, and other aspects of the labor that we do for the university. No TA is final until our contract is ratified, but this TA marks a meaningful step in good faith negotiations and is a good sign of Brown’s willingness to cooperate with us in the future.

Yesterday, however, a new test of that spirit of cooperation appeared. On Friday morning, the National Labor Relations Board put forward a proposal that could reverse all of our hard work, organizing, and bargaining efforts. Here are some FAQ about this proposal: what it is, what it means for us, and how you can help.

  1. What is the NLRB proposing?
    The National Labor Relations Board would implement a rule reversing its previous ruling that graduate workersat private universities have the right to form or join a union under the protection of the National Labor Relations Act.
  2. What does this mean for me and for SUGSE?
    By reclassifying us solely as “students” rather than “employees,” the NLRB seeks to deny us labor protections, such as an employer’s obligation to bargain in good faith with its employees’ union representative. This means that if the University were to decide to stop coming to the table to bargain with us, or if it refused to recognize SUGSE altogether, the NLRB would not intervene.
  3. How can I help protect our right to unionize?
    Your participation is invaluable in this crucial time! We need to take action so that the NLRB, the Trump administration and the University can see that we are serious about our right to recognition. First, we need to voice our opposition to the NLRB’s proposed rulemaking. Use this Action Toolkit to learn how to submit a public comment on the proposal and other ways to take a stand against this attack.

While Trump appointees keep trying to rollback workers rights, we will keep striving to reach a contract, our best protection as employees. We believe the University will honor its commitment to negotiate in good faith and not choose to take advantage of the Trump NLRB’s efforts. We will hold them to this expectation by continuing to speak out about how #OurWorkHasVALUE.

In solidarity,
Rithika Ramamurthy
Bargaining Committee Co-Chair