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

‘We stand behind them’; Cambridge City Council supports graduate student advocates on their quest for unionization

A+chalk+message+in+favor+of+graduate+students+right+to+unionize+is+written+on+the+ISEC+bridge.+Councilors+in+the+Cambridge+City+Council+expressed+their+support+for+GENU-UAW+during+an+Aug.+7+meeting.
Alexa Coultoff
A chalk message in favor of graduate students’ right to unionize is written on the ISEC bridge. Councilors in the Cambridge City Council expressed their support for GENU-UAW during an Aug. 7 meeting.

Ahead of the union certification election for Northeastern’s graduate student union scheduled for Sept. 19, the city of Cambridge expressed its support to the union-hopefuls. 

During the Cambridge City Council’s Aug. 7 meeting, councilors expressed support for the Northeastern graduate student union, known as Graduate Employees of Northeastern University-United Auto Workers Union, or GENU-UAW, by passing a resolution in which they urged the administration “to bargain in good faith with the union after the election.”

The work toward forming a union began eight years ago and has since faced high levels of opposition by Northeastern’s administration, despite a wave of graduate student unionization across the United States. Graduate students argued their work at the university warranted higher wages — enough to support living in Boston, one of the most expensive cities in the country. 

Instead of offering support or voluntarily recognizing the union, Northeastern administration took an anti-union stance, discouraging graduate student workers from unionizing. The university sent an email blast to graduate students, including a link to a frequently asked questions page consisting of the downsides that come with joining a union.

Northeastern graduate students were granted an election through a National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, authorization in July. 

“That the City Council go on record in enthusiastic support of the graduate student workers of Northeastern University and their effort to form a union; and be it further … That the City Council go on record urging the university to bargain in good faith with the union after the election,” the City Council stated in its text of orders.

Cambridge City Council meeting - August 7, 2023 - AGENDA

Councilors also addressed the alleged anti-union law firm Northeastern hired in opposition to the unionization efforts.“The law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP is arguing on Northeastern’s behalf to the NLRB that all graduate students across the country should be undemocratically denied their union representation at private universities in what would be a ruinous precedent for labor organizing,” said the City Council in its text of orders.

Councilor Burhan Azeem, the youngest member of Cambridge City Council, graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, just four years ago. Some of his peers from MIT went on to become graduate students at schools throughout Massachusetts and his partner is a doctoral candidate at Northeastern. These connections to graduate students make this fight for unionization personal for him, Azeem said.

“It’s incredibly important to support unions of all types. I think it shows solidarity between city hall and students — that they belong in the city. Northeastern might mostly be in Boston, but we are all one region,” Azeem said in an interview with the news. “We stand behind them as they are trying to fight the administration and get to a good deal.”

In an Aug. 9 decision, the NLRB regional office dismissed graduate students’ unfair labor practice charge, filed in response to an alleged NUPD threat to arrest graduate students who participated in a chalking event on campus in April. Graduate students, on Aug. 25, filed a request to extend how long they have to appeal the decision, with a  Sept. 13 deadline to appeal. 

Northeastern University did not respond to request for comment. 

Northeastern’s anti-union actions have scared graduate students and Northeastern employees from publicly supporting unionization, said Tim Rupprecht, a doctoral student studying electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern who has been involved in the unionization efforts.  

“You should see the faces of the students when we tell them; they go from nervous to fascinated that the government is actually interested in something relevant to them, let alone interested in a way that’s trying to advance their interests,” Rupprecht said. 

Azeem reaffirmed Cambridge’s support for these students.

“The city stands behind you,” Azeem said. 

More to Discover