Striking BU Graduate Workers Demand More for Parents and Families

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Rev. Blair Stowe, 4th year PhD candidate at BU School of Theology, pictured with her family.

By Vanessa Bartlett

Boston University Graduate Workers Union (BUGWU), represented by SEIU-509, have been on strike for over a week. This past Friday, members of BUGWU brought their loved ones to the picket line for a “family day”, to raise awareness for graduate workers who support a family on BU’s inadequate wages. 

“When the annual cost of childcare for an infant exceeds my annual salary, it’s incredibly difficult to work 60 hours a week and have a child,” said Reverend Blair Stowe, a fourth-year PhD student in the School of Theology.

BU currently offers minimal assistance to graduate workers when it comes to childcare and healthcare for family members. Grad workers like Rev. Stowe receive a subsidy of $600/household for childcare at BU’s daycare center, for children under the age of 6, and only if the combined income of the household is lower than $100,000. 

“That’s like 3 days at the BU childcare center, so that’s really inadequate,” Stowe said. “It costs more to put an infant in the daycare center in BU than I make in a year, so it’s not really a benefit that I can take advantage of, or my colleagues can take advantage of.”

Rev. Stowe also had issues with adding a dependent to her BU healthcare plan. Her child’s coverage through Masshealth wasn’t adequate, but to add her child to her insurance, Stowe was required to pay a lump sum of $14,000 in premiums. 

A group of supporters and grads from last Friday’s rally.

This issue has long gone unaddressed by BU. The university currently does not offer a payment plan for graduate workers in this situation, and although Stowe knew a colleague who had gone through the same situation, the BU Provost’s office seemed unaware that this was a significant barrier to students pursuing their degrees. 

“I am in a privileged position because I am partnered, and I have a partner who is able to work. I have colleagues who are here as international students with dependents, and their partners can’t work. And they’re supporting families of four or five, or more, on $27000 a year, which is our current stipend,” said Stowe.

BUGWU supporter Sarah Horowitz and son Ezra.

BUGWU is striking/bargaining for contract language that will help graduate workers access healthcare for themselves and their dependents more easily. BUGWU strikers are demanding a subsidy of $8000 per child for children under six, and $2000 per child for children aged 6-13. This would cover 33% of the cost of childcare through BU. 

BUGWU has also been pushing for all graduate workers to be upgraded to the Plus version of the BU healthcare plan, to decrease out of pocket costs across the board for graduate students, and also to lower the up-front cost of premiums. They are also asking that rather than a lump-sum payment, the cost of adding dependents to healthcare plans be spread out. 

For many BUGWU members like Stowe on the picket line, winning a fair contract means being able to provide for a family without intense financial stress. “All we’re asking of BU is that they provide us with adequate compensation so that we can provide for ourselves and for our families, and live in the place where we work,” Stowe summarized. 

Vanessa Bartlett is a staff organizer for UAW, an editor of Working Mass, 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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