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Graduate students deliver letters to LeBlanc demanding action on unionization

Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor
(From left) Graduate students Michael Horka, Matt Payne, Jackie Bolduan and Julie Chamberlain brought more than 100 letters to officials in Rice Hall Thursday morning demanding a meeting on graduate student unionization.

Five graduate students delivered a box of about 160 letters to University President LeBlanc’s office in Rice Hall Thursday morning urging administrators to meet with organizers hoping to start a graduate student union.

The letters, written by undergraduate, graduate and prospective students, are part of a larger effort to demand officials reverse their opposition to a graduate union that organizations say would allow for better wages and more affordable health care for graduate student workers. The students, who are members of GW Grad Students United, said they hope the letters will continue pressing administrators to hold a meeting and recognize them as employees of the University.

Jackie Boluan, one of the graduate students who carried the box of letters to LeBlanc’s office, said it was “confusing as to why the University won’t even meet with its own graduate students to discuss our terms of employment and working conditions.” She said the letters were written by graduate and undergraduate students to demonstrate the widespread support for unionization across campus, even from undergraduates who learn from graduate teaching assistants in their classes.

“Their learning conditions are our working conditions,” she said. “So if we are struggling to pay the bills, we feel overworked and underpaid, we don’t have adequate health care – it’s difficult for us to perform the best we can in the classroom.”

A group of graduate students launched an effort to unionize in the fall, but administrators declined to meet with them and announced their opposition to a graduate union last month. Officials said graduate students serve as teaching and research assistants as part of their educational experience with the University and a union would hurt their relationships with students and faculty mentors.

Earlier this month, Georgetown University announced it would allow graduate students to hold an election on whether or not they can unionize, after officials there initially opposed the effort.

Graduate students at GW can still submit a petition to the National Labor Relations Board to make the case for unionization and compel the University to hold a unionization vote, but the board has historically opposed student labor unions under Republican presidential administrations.

The Student Association senate approved a resolution last month in support of the unionization drive.

Michael Horka, a graduate student who came to deliver the letters, said the letters are a show of support from students concerned about inadequate health care and low compensation for their work as research and teaching assistants.

“We’re not going to stop until we’re unionized, so this is one piece of the puzzle,” he said.

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