In 2015, if you had randomly stopped grad workers walking through Red Square, across the Med Campus, or heading to the GUTS buses and asked them how their experiences had been so far, you would have gotten a huge array of answers. However, if you’d asked them what the conditions were like for any other grad worker, in any department besides their own, you would likely have received blank stares in return. As Karen, a grad worker in the Philosophy Department, put it, “I had no idea how things worked in the departments on the floors above and below me, much less across campus!”
Grad workers were siloed in their departments and the circumstances of their lives were often established by ad hoc and inconsistent policies. This isolation hampered building meaningful interpersonal community, producing innovative interdisciplinary work, recognizing shared concerns, and--crucially--discovering that some people were being treated unjustly and didn’t even know that their situation was especially exploitative. A grad worker in the Cognitive Science Department was horrified and said that they had no idea that grad workers like Tim in the Spanish & Portuguese Department taught TWICE as much as other grad employees, for less pay. Exploitation and inconsistency thrive when people are isolated.
Another galvanizing moment revealed how little say we had in the issues that affected our lives. In the summer of 2016, without consultation and without advance notice, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences unilaterally changed PhD employees’ contracts. The changes included an increase in hours one could be required to work without a proportional pay increase, and the elimination of the option to do additional paid work for professors, journals, and more. On this issue and others, when individual grad workers, or even small groups from one department, would voice their concerns, the administration could easily dismiss their claims as idiosyncratic and unimportant.
However, this isolation and powerlessness began to change as grad workers started to listen, find solidarity with each other, and organize across all departments and all corners of the Main and Medical Campuses. Every step has been driven by graduate employees, democratic, and open to any worker who wanted to contribute. And as we have begun organizing, we have already achieved substantial successes!
EFFORT: As an informal, volunteer-run group, we survey PhD workers about their experiences.
SUCCESS: We discover that hundreds of graduate employees are interested in forming a union.
EFFORT: We hold public education event on the history of labor organizing at GU, the Just Employment Policy, and grad worker unions at other public and private universities.
EFFORT: In response to unilateral, unannounced change in the contract, we collect over 300 signatures for a petition that we deliver to the Graduate Dean’s office.
SUCCESS: Our efforts force the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to place a moratorium on their exploitative proposed changes to our contracts.
SUCCESS: For the first time in the university’s history the Graduate School creates a position for a PhD student-employee to attend Executive Council Meetings.
EFFORT: Department of Spanish and Portuguese graduate instructors consult and receive support from other grad workers in their fight for equal teaching loads. They are the only group required to teach two courses per semester, and they are paid the same or less than many other employees.
SUCCESS: As a result of their organizing, they are guaranteed a teaching load of one course per semester for academic year of 2017-2018.
EFFORT: We hold hundreds of individual conversations with graduate workers, finding out what matters to them, what their needs are, and what should be our collective priorities.
SUCCESS: Graduate workers at Georgetown form GAGE!
SUCCESS: Through these conversations, we uncover major contract disparities across departments.
Compensation is the same for instructors of record of two sections and teaching assistants of one faculty-led course, while some TAs in the sciences are teaching without any compensation at all.
EFFORT: An interdisciplinary team of volunteers conduct extensive research into affiliation options.
SUCCESS: GAGE votes to formally affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
EFFORT: Graduate organizers of GAGE advocate that the Georgetown administration provide support for graduate employees and undergraduate students and workers affected by President Trump’s travel ban.
EFFORT: GAGE co-sponsors a health care workshop, explaining how to get (some of) what we need out of our health insurance plan.
EFFORT: In solidarity, GAGE graduate workers participate in actions organized by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, targeting Nike and putting pressure on Georgetown’s administration to hold Nike accountable to provide better working conditions in their factories.
SUCCESS: For the first time ever, Nike signs a contract that ensures full, independent access for the Worker Rights Consortium, the world’s only independent monitoring agency for factories.
EFFORT: GAGE workers engage in a year of conversations, town halls, and more with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences about their unilateral, exploitative changes to the employees’ contracts.
SUCCESS: Moratorium is still in place for most workers
First-year employees are now required to work 20 hours a week for the University instead of 15, without a proportional raise in pay.
International first-year employees are prohibited from taking ANY outside work.
EFFORT: Graduate workers from departments across the campus find time in their demanding work, teaching, and research schedules to build community, make connections, have conversations, discover priorities, and plan for the future.
We talk to workers from every department, having conversations with a substantial majority of all graduate employees, making their voices and priorities heard, often for the first time
The vast majority of grad workers we talk to enthusiastically affirm the need for a union and join GAGE.
Real community among people from many departments starts to form, connecting us across the campuses in a way many of us wanted but never had before.
SUCCESS: The majority of graduate workers at Georgetown support forming a union, and we take our campaign public!
We receive public support and solidarity to have an election.
In Spring 2018, we sat down and negotiated an election agreement with Georgetown University Administration. You can see it here. In it, we were able to negotiate that when we win our election, Georgetown must come to the table and bargain in good faith over things like stipend and wage levels, benefits including health-care, leave policies, and fee waivers, hours of work required, and more. You can find it all in “Mandatory Subjects of Bargaining.” This is huge news! This shows the power of public pressure - we kept demanding not only an election, but evidence that they would come to the table, and we got it!
In Fall 2018, we won our election in a landslide!
In Spring 2019, we elected a bargaining committee and began negotiations.