Graduate Student Unionization Update: AAA Notice

November 1, 2018

Members of the Brown Community,

The American Arbitration Association (AAA) has notified the University and SUGSE/AFT that they believe sufficient support exists for an election on graduate student unionization to be conducted at Brown, as demonstrated through signed authorization cards. We anticipate the dates, times and other details of an election will be set soon, which we will communicate once confirmed. As we have stated repeatedly, we want to ensure that all in our community, and especially graduate students, are fully informed on both the process and issues surrounding unionization.

AAA Determination
The AAA is responding to signatures filed by Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees (SUGSE) affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) supporting unionization at Brown. AAA today confirmed receiving signed cards from the threshold of 30% of the Bargaining Unit. Per the Pre-election Agreement signed by Brown, SUGSE and AFT on June 21, 2018, the University will now ask an arbitrator to validate the cards.

University Position and Resources
The University’s position on the role of graduate students has remained unchanged: Our principal relationship with graduate students is as students, which guides how we admit, recruit and train students. However, since August 2016, when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that graduate students at private colleges and universities who serve as teaching or research assistants are both students and employees with the right to decide whether or not to unionize, Brown has consistently affirmed that we would comply with the decision and support discussions among graduate students as they explore whether or not unionization is right for them.

The University has stood by this commitment, and has developed a “Be Informed” website to provide informational resources for the community, including an evolving set of Frequently Asked Questions. Please take time to review this site.

Additional Information

What does card-certification mean?
For a unionization election to take place, the union must demonstrate support by providing valid authorization cards signed by at least 30 percent of currently enrolled students who are in the proposed bargaining unit.  

It is important to note that signing an authorization card is a pre-petition step, and is distinct from ultimately voting for or against representation by the union in an election. Eligible voters are not required to have signed a card to vote in an election, and those who sign authorization cards are not obligated to vote in support of the union during the manual secret ballot election. Eligible voters, who will have an opportunity to learn more about the issues during the pre-election period, are free to vote however they choose.

What is the difference between an “eligible voter” and a “bargaining unit member”?
According to the Pre-election Agreement, an “eligible voter” is defined as a Brown Ph.D. and/or Masters student enrolled in the Graduate School who is engaged in research or instructional services as a duly appointed Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, and/or Proctor (collectively, “Graduate Assistants”) during the semester in which the election is held or who performed such services in one of the two semesters immediately preceding the semester in which the election takes place.

A “bargaining unit member” is defined as a Brown Ph.D. and/or Masters student currently enrolled in the Graduate School who is currently engaged in research or instructional services as a duly appointed “Graduate Assistant.”

This distinction between an “eligible voter” and a “bargaining unit member” is important because the term “eligible voter” encompasses a wider range of students, as it covers enrolled students from the prior two semesters as well as the current semester in which the election is taking place.

When will an election be held?
Brown and SUGSE/AFT are working to set the dates, times, polling locations and other details of an election. Once the information is confirmed, we will publicize this widely.

Who should vote in an election?
The decision on whether to allow a union to represent graduate students serving as Graduate Assistants is a consequential one. Every eligible person should vote, because the election outcome is determined by the majority of those who vote, not a majority of those eligible to vote. Thus, the question of whether or not there will be union representation for non-voters will be decided by those who vote.

Will there be opportunities to learn more about unionization prior to an election?
In addition to the ongoing efforts of the Graduate School and others to share information and convene meetings on these issues, per the Pre-election Agreement, the University will host or participate in at least one open forum in the period between receiving a petition and an election taking place. We will publicize any forums once scheduled.

This is a critically important moment for graduate students and graduate education at Brown. All students, and especially those eligible to vote in an election, should become fully informed of the issues and determine whether unionization is in their best interests. We welcome a robust, constructive and informed discussion on these issues.


Richard M. Locke