BU Graduate Workers Set to Strike on Monday

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By Vanessa Bartlett

This past Wednesday, graduate workers from Boston University reaffirmed their intentions to go on strike starting Monday, March 25. A rally is scheduled for Monday at 12pm at Marsh Plaza. 

On March 12, members of the Boston University Graduate Workers Union (BUGWU), represented by SEIU-509, voted 90% in favor of strike authorization. Graduate workers’ reasons for walking out are manifold. 

Lacking childcare benefits, insufficient healthcare and dental benefits, and lack of job security protections leave many grads vulnerable, and many BUGWU members say they are rent-burdened and underpaid relative to the high cost of living in Boston.

According to BUGWU, graduate workers are paid between $27,000 and $40,000 a year, approximately. According to the MIT living wage calculator, this is far below the cost of living in Boston, estimated to be $62,000 per year before taxes. 

Boston University has doubled down on union-busting messaging following BUGWU’s strike authorization. On March 19, BU Today, Boston University’s PR outlet, released an article outlining the offers that the university has made to BUGWU on issues such as pay, healthcare, and childcare. 

In bargaining, BU offered raises: a bump from $15 to $18 an hour for hourly work, a raise to $42,159 a year for 12-month stipended PhDs, and a raise to $31,619 for 9-month funded PhDs. Obviously, these offers came nowhere close to adjusting grad workers’ wages to match the cost of living in Boston.

Officials for the university say they are trying to strike a balance in negotiations between “supporting the needs, concerns, and quality of life for BU graduate students,” and “what the University can reasonably afford.” According to BU’s own consolidated financial report for 2022-23, the university’s endowment is over $3 billion.

BUGWU responded swiftly to the university’s assertion that their offers constituted negotiation in “good faith”, releasing an Instagram post with a breakdown of the university’s most misleading claims. 

“BU had already committed to giving graduate workers a 4% cost-of-living increase, meaning that this 7% increase is actually a 3% increase – so, roughly $1000 more a year / $82 more a month for stipended workers,” reads BUGWU’s instagram post.

BU also offered grad workers benefits: a 33% reduced price MBTA monthly pass; creating a $50,000 emergency fund for all grad workers to access in times of need; a subsidized dental plan, which BUGWU points out would cost more than Massachusetts state dental coverage even with a subsidy; and the option for PhD students to add dependents to healthcare plans at no additional cost (until the age of six, when presumably those children will be able to get jobs which will provide them with their own healthcare plans). 

Hannah Howard, a 6th year PhD student in BU’s anthropology department and an elected member of the BUGWU bargaining team, said she was “disappointed but not surprised” by BU’s recent attempts to mislead community members.

“My stakes in this game remain the same. I’m someone who is 60% rent burdened. I’m someone who has visited the BU food pantry often during my graduate career, and I’m looking for a collective bargaining agreement that helps me address those issues, and helps my colleagues.. Also address those issues. And so far BU hasn’t brought us offers that do that,” said Howard. 

Community members aren’t being fooled by BU’s attempts to control the narrative around the strike either. A faculty support letter has gained traction, with professors signing to express their solidarity with striking grad workers. 

Undergraduate students are also working on ways to show support for BUGWU, said Aarohi Goel, a senior at BU and co-chair of BU YDSA. “We’re with them the whole way,” Goel said.

“We’ve been preparing. Right now, with the strike imminent, we are working on combating union busting and misinformation that is coming from BU admin,” said Goel. “We’re preparing answers to questions that other undergrads might ask, like ‘do I have to go to class, what’s going to happen to my grades, am i going to graduate.’”

BU released a “strike payroll” plan, stating that “The University intended to withhold pay from any graduate student workers who are on strike for the duration of the strike period.” The plan outlines a punitive system wherein departments and faculty who do not report their graduate workers for striking will have their budgets cut, and any grad worker who receives pay while striking will have to “recoup any overpayments” back to the university.

BU graduate workers have created a strike fund (which you can donate to here), posted on their Instagram along with the words, “WE HAVE RENT TO PAY!” Community members can also write an email to BU admin to express support for graduate workers. 

Looking ahead to Monday, grad student Howard said, “I feel emboldened. All of us feel really strongly that we are ready and prepared to go on strike for as long as it takes to win a fair contract that includes a wage offer that actually meets our demands, that includes benefits, that includes a more respectful and helpful campus culture.”

Vanessa Bartlett is a staff organizer for UAW, and a member of Boston DSA. She has a background in print and radio journalism, but please don’t hold that against her.

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