The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News



Got an idea? A concern? A problem? Let The Huntington News know:

Grad students demand election agreement


By Alyssa Lukpat, news staff

Northeastern’s graduate students demanded the university administration accept their right to form a union at a rally in Krentzman Quad Tuesday.

More than 100 students from the Graduate Employees of Northeastern University – United Auto Workers, or GENU-UAW, attended the rally. Speakers urged the Northeastern administration to accept the results of a potential vote among the university’s 8,400 graduate students to form a union. GENU-UAW plans to hold a vote once the the administration says it will allow the students to act on the election results.

Rally organizer Daniel Patterson, a second-year computer science doctorate student, said GENU-UAW has been asking the administration to accept the results of a potential election for the past year and a half. The organization delivers a letter to university President Joseph E. Aoun’s office every week.

“It’s a matter of Northeastern dragging its feet and preventing the election,” Patterson said. “They know we’d win, so they’re refusing the election. But we’re asking for a fair election, not a union.”

At the rally, attendees held signs with quotes such as, “Hear our voice. Northeastern works because we do!” Their frequent chants of “What’s disgusting? Union busting,” filled the quad.

Patterson said a union will allow graduate students to have a voice in administrative decisions, and a majority of students indicated they would vote in favor of a union. The benefits their union would advocate for include health care for their dependents, summer funding and childcare offerings.

In an email statement to The News, Renata Nyul, Northeastern’s vice president of communications, said GENU-UAW has the right to seek a union election any time by filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB. She said the UAW directed a “handful of students” to ask the university to agree to a private union election agreement instead, which the administration thinks would limit student rights.

Northeastern’s administration believes graduate students will be more successful without a union, Nyul said. The administration would rather work directly with the PhD Network, graduate student government and college councils, Nyul said, to provide resources to graduate students.

“Northeastern’s commitment to the success of its graduate students is unwavering,” Nyul said. “The university continues to believe that representation by a non-academic third party is not in the best interest of our students, and would adversely impact them in many ways, such as impeding graduate co-op placements and changing their relationship with faculty mentors.”

GENU-UAW operates with support from the United Automobile Workers, or UAW, a national labor union. While the group is named Graduate Employees of Northeastern University, it advocates for all graduate students, even if they are not employed as researchers or teacher’s assistants.

“We negotiated for months, and then the administration walked away saying the election agreement is not in our best interest,” Patterson said. “But I think the graduate students should decide what’s in our best interest.”

Rally organizer Alex Ahmed, a fifth-year health informatics doctorate student, told attendees that a union guarantees graduate students more rights at Northeastern.

“Our desire for a union is rooted in each other and our principles and conviction that this can be a better workplace,” Ahmed told the crowd.

About a dozen construction workers in neon vests stood out among the gathering of graduate students. The men are building the new dormitory on Burke Street and attended the rally during their 30-minute lunch break.

“We believe the right to organize should never be taken away. They should be able to have an election,” said Charles Cofield, a business representative from the New England Regional Council of Carpenters who manages the construction workers. “We’re union workers — we stand for unions and the rights of all, not just construction workers.”

Graduate students at public universities have been legally allowed to organize since 1969, when students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison formed the country’s first graduate student union. However, the NLRB only ruled in 2016 that private university graduate students have the right to create unions.

In response to this ruling, private schools around the country, including several in Massachusetts, are starting to form graduate student unions. Tufts University graduate students voted to form a union last year, and Harvard University had an election to form a graduate student union Wednesday. In both elections, the administrations agreed to accept the students’ votes.

“The priorities of this university are totally messed up and we want democratic rights in our workplace,” Ahmed told the crowd.

GENU-UAW is allowed to establish a union through the NLRB. However, members of the national board, appointed by President Donald J. Trump, said they want to reverse the NLRB’s 2016 ruling allowing graduate students to unionize. Until the ruling is changed, if the students hold a union election through the NLRB, the Northeastern administration will have the right to appeal to the NLRB board members.

“The majority of grad students want a union, but now the administration is threatening to appeal to the Trump administration and take away our right to a graduate union,” Patterson said.

Patterson hopes the Northeastern administration is the next one to accept the results of an election to form a graduate student union.

“More than half of all grad students have signed cards saying they’ll vote yes in the election,” Patterson said. “Having happy grad students is something that will benefit all of Northeastern.”

More to Discover