Grads who serve as teaching assistants, research assistants, and proctors as a condition of receiving a stipend at Brown University are covered by our collective bargaining agreement, which outlines our rights and protections as employees at Brown. Below is a plain language summary of our contract.

Brown students can check if they are part of the Bargaining Unit by logging onto Banner (, navigating to the “Student” tab and clicking “Graduate Student Appointment Details”. Select the appointment letter for the relevant semester and look to the line “Appointment Classification”.

Contract Basics


Graduate Student Employee (GSE):
TA: Teaching assistant
TA II: Teaching assistant II (responsible for course section)
TF: Teaching fellow (designs own course)
RA: Research assistant (lab worker)
Proctor: various special positions, e.g. Hay Library Proctorship

Bargaining unit: all GSEs as a group.

T.A.: the Tentative Agreement – the contract during this step, until ratification.

Member: anyone who signed a union card (can attend meetings, vote in union decisions, and hold positions). People are allowed to become members and withdraw their membership at any time. International students are eligible to be members, but should not contribute to the COPE Fund.

Dues: money collected from members to defend the contract with legal help, etc. The initial dues rate was set at 1.65% of the stipend in the Constitution

Fair share fees: money collected from non-members in the bargaining unit to defend the contract, typically 85% of dues.

COPE Fund: An opt-in donation for pro-labor causes.

Grievance procedure: a new legal procedure for resolving disputes between GSEs and Brown.
Initial filing -> Step 1: DGS -> Step 2: Chair -> Step 3: Dean -> Arbitration or Mediation

Remedial measures: new toolbox of ways for a GSE to respond to discrimination or harassment, including no-contact orders and academic accommodations.

Reopener: a new round of negotiations about the raise in Year 2 and Year 3.

AFT: The American Federation of Teachers – our larger union affiliate.

NLRB: National Labor Relations Board — the federal agency which governs labor law

AAA: American Arbitration Association — organization that oversaw our elections and negotiations prior to our establishment as a full union


Article I – Recognition and Bargaining Unit Description

Purpose: Outlines who is covered by the contract

Key Points: 

Specific graduate students (both Masters and PhD) are covered by the contract and these people are referred to as Graduate Student Employees (GSEs) and are part of the Bargaining Unit, which includes:

TA: Teaching assistant
TA II: Teaching assistant II (responsible for course section)
TF: Teaching fellow (designs own course)
RA: Research assistant (lab worker)
Proctor: various special positions, e.g. Hay Library Proctorship

People on external fellowships or institutional training grants are typically not part of the Bargaining Unit, and thus not automatically covered by the contract.

You can find out if you’re part of the Bargaining Unit by logging onto Banner ( Navigate to the “Student” tab and click “Graduate Student Appointment Details”; click the appointment letter for the relevant year and look to the line “Appointment Classification”.

The Union has sole authority to negotiate with the University over working conditions, and the University cannot change conditions of employment without consulting the Union. However, the University retains the right to make decisions about the student/academic parts of the graduate experience, inducing things like graduation requirements (see Article V – Management Rights for more details).

Article II – Bargaining Unit Information

Purpose: Describes how the University will share information with the Union about who is in the Bargaining Unit

Key Points

Typically, universities are required to keep student records confidential (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)). People in the Bargaining Unit will have to sign a waiver so that the University can release their information (including contact information, appointment details and wages) to the Union, so that the Union can adequately represent the Bargaining Unit. The Union will be responsible for keeping this information protected.

Since students cycle in and out of the Bargaining Unit somewhat frequently (depending on funding sources), the University must update the Union of changes generally within a 2 week timeframe.

Article III – Union Rights and Responsibilities

Purpose: Lists what the Union is allowed and expected to do in the context of the University

Key Points

Orientation: The Union is allowed to present at various Orientation events at the start of the semester.

Good Faith Rules: The University allows people in the Union to use University resources (rooms, devices, bulletin boards, etc.) for Union business as they normally would as students involved in any other group.

Communication: The University makes the contract available online.

Article IV – Union Security and Checkoff

Purpose: Details on dues and fair share fees (The Union and money)

Key Points

People in the Bargaining Unit who join the Union pay dues (money collected from members to defend the contract with legal help, etc.). The initial dues rate was set at 1.65% of the stipend in the Constitution

People in the Bargaining Unit who do not join the Union pay Fair Share Fees (money collected from non-members in the bargaining unit to defend the contract). This is typically around 85% of membership dues.

The University, with permission from the person, deducts Dues and Fair Share Fees from every paycheck and sends it to the Union automatically.

Article V – Management Rights

Purpose: Defines things that count as part of the “student” experience that the Union cannot collectively bargain over 

Key Points:

The University retains a bunch of rights that the Union does not have power to negotiate over, including things like graduation requirements, who is hired as a TA within departments, how many admissions slots are offered, what is included in the curricula, and tuition rates, among other things. 

Students are still allowed to participate on all committees within the University, and the University can provide accommodations for individual graduate students, as they have in the past.

Article VI – Appointments and Assignments

Purpose: Details the University’s responsibilities to people in the Bargaining Unit and work expectations for different positions

Key Points:

Everyone in the Bargaining Unit receives an Appointment Letter that explains the specific terms and conditions of the position they’ve been appointed to (e.g. TA duties). These letters will be sent out 2 months before the start of the semester, or as soon as possible if there’s a funding change (e.g. an external fellowship ends). If you think you have been misclassified, you can bring your concern to the Dean of the Graduate School.

Teaching Assistant: Assists a faculty member with a specific course
Teaching Assistant II: Bears the primary responsibility for running a course (or section)
Teaching Fellow: Designs and teaches their own course
Research Assistant: Works in a laboratory environment to support a faculty member’s research project (there may be overlap between an RAs duties and their thesis research)
Proctor: People filling various special positions within departments, e.g. Hay Library Proctorship

You will receive adequate training and resources to do your assigned duties, including having access to private meeting spaces, printers, a mailbox, an instructor copy of the assigned textbook, etc.

If the University abruptly cancels your appointment because the department no longer exists, you’re entitled to 50% of the pay you would have received.

Typically, you will not be expected to work more than 20 hours per week on your appointment. You can contact the Dean of the Graduate School if you don’t think your work can be reasonably completed in that time, or if scheduling demands are unreasonable.

Faculty members are expected to provide timely, constructive, professional feedback about performance of assigned duties, including advice, guidance and early intervention if there are concerns.

Class sizes should be set before the start of the course, and TAs and TAIIs can refuse to accept further students via override into the already full class.

Article VII – Leaves of Absence and Time Off

Purpose: Guidelines and rights for taking time away from work

Key Points

Sick Time: 5 paid sick days per year (if you can’t work because you or a family member is sick/injured or receiving medical care)

Time away from work for University holidays (national or state holidays or declared University emergencies), conference travel, required licensing exams, or jury service do not count as vacation time or sick time — these are expected parts of employment.

The Union’s Leave policies are the same policies that govern everyone in the Graduate School (consult a Graduate School Dean for the latest policies).

Medical Leaves: Any member of the Bargaining Unit, in line with Graduate School policy, can take a medical leave for one or two semesters if they have an illness or injury. You request this Leave through the Graduate School, and are readmitted through the Graduate School (with support from a health professional). International grads should speak with OISSS if they want to remain in the US during a Medical Leave. You retain access to things like the gym and library if you go on Leave.

Bereavement Leave: You can take 1-5 days off (depending on the relationship to the deceased) to plan and/or attend a funeral, memorial service, or similar event.

Professional Development Leave: You can take one or two semesters of Professional Development Leave to pursue something that supports your academic or professional goals (e.g. an internship in industry).

Article VIII – Stipend, Health Care and Other Benefits

Purpose: Details of “monetary” benefits provided by the University, including stipends, raises, healthcare subsidies and COVID-relief (the University and money)

Key Points:


In the first year of the contract (Fall 2020-Summer 2021) everyone in the Bargaining Unit will get a 2.50% raise. Teaching Fellows receive an additional $250 supplement called a “top-up”

The raise will be renegotiated for the second and third years of the contract (Fall 2021-Summer 2023), but won’t go below the rate of faculty raises.

Teaching Assistants II will receive a $750 top-up and Teaching Fellows will get a $1000 top-up in the second and third years of the contract (Fall 2021-Summer 2023).


PhD and MFA students can receive a 75% subsidy on the cost of health insurance and dental insurance for dependents (all dependents, not just children).


Parents who are part of the Bargaining Unit can use up to 10 days of back-up child care.

People in the Bargaining Unit will receive a one-time cash payment of $400 for COVID-relief during the Fall 2020 semester.

In years two and three of the contract, the University will either give everyone in the Bargaining Unit a Health Reimbursement Account (money set aside tax-free that can be used for qualified healthcare expenses) or a cash payment of $500 (year 2) or $600 (year 3).

Article IX – Equal Employment Opportunity and Non-Discrimination

Purpose: Describe protections against discrimination

Key Points:

This section contains definitions for:
Harassment (including criteria for determining what counts as a “hostile environment”)
Sexual harassment
Gender-based harassment (including definitions of gender identity and expression)

The Union and University agree not to discriminate (or allow harassment) on the basis of race, color, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, disability, status as a veteran, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex, marital, parental or pregnancy status, or citizenship status (or anything else protected by law). In addition, neither group can discriminate on the basis of Union membership or activity, or participation in a grievance/complaint process.

Non-retaliation: People in the Bargaining Unit can’t be retaliated against for reporting any discrimination and cannot retaliate against others (e.g. students they are teaching). Anyone who retaliates will face disciplinary action. (Definition of retaliation in Article XI – Grievance Procedures)

This contract protects people in the Bargaining Unit from discrimination and harassment in the context of the University (i.e. the behavior has to occur on Brown’s campus, in the context of Brown activities, or is connected to a hostile environment at Brown — this doesn’t cover all possible situations in life that could result in discrimination or harassment).

Complaint Process (specific details in Article XI):

  1. Complaint filed with relevant University office (e.g. Title IX Office)
  2. Appropriate remedial and protective measures (e.g. counseling, no contact orders, schedule modification, etc.) instated during complaint process.
  3. Using the standard processes (e.g. the Graduate Student Grievance Procedure), the University makes a determination about whether discrimination occurred and what the disciplinary action should be
  4. If the Union thinks the University breached the contract in handling the complaint, the complainant can pursue mediation or arbitration (with support of the Union).

Article X – Discipline and Discharge

Purpose: List the main forms of discipline the University can take if a graduate student employee does not meet their employment expectations

Key Points:

Employee/Student Distinction: Issues related to student status are not covered by the contract or under the Union’s influence. Any discipline related to employment (e.g. not fulfilling work expectations) should be treated separately from student status.

The Union and University encourage supervisors and people in the Bargaining Unit to handle work performance issues informally first before resorting to formal disciplinary complaints.

Possible disciplinary options include written warnings, unpaid suspensions, ending the appointment before it’s supposed to end (discharge), paid disciplinary leave while the University investigates a possible problem. Resolving the issue might include reassignment to another position.

A person in the Bargaining Unit can have support from a Union representative at a disciplinary meeting, and if the person in the Bargaining Unit disagrees with the result, they can use the Grievance Procedure (Article XI).

Article XI – Grievance Procedure

Purpose: Detail the specific steps for investigating and resolving a grievance

Key Points:

Grievance: any dispute about the interpretation, application or (claimed) violation of part of this contract

Anyone who files a grievance can have a Union Representative represent them or support them during the process

Stages of Grievance Process (only proceed to next step if not resolved — strict timeline):
Initial filing → Director of Graduate Study (DGS) → Department Chair → Dean of the Graduate School → Arbitration (default option) or Mediation

Arbitration: an external arbitrator is brought in to resolve the grievance

Article XII – Severability

Summary: If any part of this contract is declared illegal by the courts, the rest of the contract remains intact. If the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determines that graduate students do not qualify as employees, the contract will remain in effect for until it’s stated duration, but the University won’t be required to renegotiate with the Union.

Article XIII – Entire Agreement

Summary: The Union and the University agreed to this contract. Neither group is required to collectively bargain again during the time covered by the contract, and agree that the contract cannot be modified without written agreement by the Union and University.

Article XIV – Duration of Agreement

Summary: This contract is effective for 3 years (July 2020 through June 2023).

Article XV – No Strike — No Lockout

Purpose: Outline negotiating tactics that are not acceptable by the Union of University

Key Points:

The Union cannot condone or engage in any strikes, work stoppages/slowdowns, sympathy strikes, withhold grades or evaluations, or otherwise disrupt University operations. Individuals may independently take any of these actions, but are not protected by the contract.

The University cannot lockout (force people covered by the contract to stop work) anyone covered by the contract during the contract period or during follow-up negotiations as this contract closes.

Side Letters of Agreement

During our first contract negotiation, the University and Bargaining Committee settled on a few agreements that are not subject to the terms of the rest of the contract. In particular these agreements have their own sets of appeals processes, and are not subject to the grievance and arbitration procedure outlined in the contract. In other words, the University has agreed to uphold the terms of these Side Letters, but any disputes or disagreements about the fulfillment of these agreements will be settled by internal committees, rather than through the Union’s grievance procedure.

COVID-19 Appointment Extensions

Purpose: To outline the terms for eligible PhD students to get an extra year of funding in recognition of the disruptions caused by COVID-19

Key Points:

Since the pandemic was ongoing at the time of this agreement, the details of this extension may be broadened or extended as the situation develops.

PhD students in their third, fourth and fifth year (in Spring 2020) or who had advanced to candidacy are eligible for up to two-semesters of appointment extensions (stipend support), and this does not preclude other extension programs (like the Dissertation Extension and Completion Programs). (Sixth year students were provided an early opportunity to request an extension).

A COVID-19 Appointment Extension Committee composed of faculty, staff and students will decide the criteria for who merits an extension, and the Graduate School will determine if applicants meet those criteria.

Anyone who applies for the extension and is denied will be able to utilize an appeals process, moderated by the Extension Committee.

COVID-19 Testing and/or COVID-19 Treatment Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Purpose: Details of COVID-19 testing and treatment coverage

Key Points

Brown will reimburse graduate student employees on the Brown University Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) for any COVID-19 testing and treatment costs that insurance does not cover, through the end of 2021 (with the possibility of an extension)

Hourly Compensation

Purpose: Explain changes to compensation for hourly positions

Key Points

People who are paid hourly are not part of the Bargaining Unit (and so not protected by the rest of the contract). However, the University will establish policies regulating the roles, responsibilities and compensation for hourly work, and anticipate setting a $15 per hour minimum hourly wage.

Medical Leave and Medical Accommodation, Child Care Subsidy and Parental Relief

Purpose: List specific leave and accommodation policies (that are not specifically covered by the contract)

Key Points:

Medical Leave: People taking a medical leave can get a one-time $1,200 grant at the start of the leave

Medical Accommodation: For medical reasons, people can take up to 4 weeks off of their work while maintaining active student status and pay (termed a medical accommodation)

Child Care Subsidy: Parents can receive a $5,000 childcare subsidy for all dependent children (regardless of age), up to $15,000 per household.

Parental Relief: If both parents are Brown graduate students, both parents can take Parental Relief

People Who Bargained


Sierra V. Kaufman
Rithika Ramamurthy
Gabriele N. Borg
Kaitlyn H. Hajdarovic
Kaitlyn Quaranta
(A.) Nicole Dusang
Siraj Sindhu
Max Weinrich
Marlon Jimenez Oviedo
Mirjam Paninski
Kyle Arnone (AFT)


Russel C. Carey
Amanda Bailey
Ethan T. Bernstein
James M. Green