Brown grad employees cast historic vote to join the AFT

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The AFT is thrilled to welcome Brown University graduate employees to our union family, following their historic vote this week to join the AFT, with 60 percent voting to unionize.

As Kaitlyn Quaranta, a graduate assistant in French studies said upon confirmation of the victory, "Hundreds of graduate workers stood up this week and sent a clear message that our labor for the university should not be taken for granted. Winning this election is about more than just improving working conditions for grads at Brown. In voting to unionize, we stood up for labor rights during an incredibly anti-labor administration."

In 2002, Brown University stripped students of their collective bargaining rights, setting a national precedent that has now been overturned once and for all. By standing together in solidarity, with creative activism, and garnering campuswide support, graduate employees forced the administration to change its stance.

Marley-Vincent Lindsey, a graduate assistant in the Department of History says this victory sends a message to workers at universities and beyond: "During an era of peak hostility to unions, power still resides with us. For two and a half years, hundreds of graduate workers spoke to our colleagues about what they loved about their departments, what they wanted to change, and how that change might happen. Today, we have the power to make changes for a better university—one that protects the most precarious among us and also advances the needs of its workers." 

In congratulating the Brown grads on their victory, AFT President Randi Weingarten said a union at Brown is about voice: “Graduate employees at private institutions—Ivy League or otherwise—just like their peers in public universities across the country, deserve the right to organize to have a real say over their wages, conditions, and work expectations. That voice will hugely help Brown students as well as graduate employees, who have stood up to have a say over their work lives. Their decision to unionize validates their fight to win a meaningful seat at the bargaining table, impacting the lives of graduate employees from all walks of life. This win means a voice for parents who are graduate employees and in need of better child care, and a voice for international graduate employees facing complicated immigration issues. Just as important, this voice at the bargaining table ensures a better grievance process for victims of sexual harassment—a process currently under attack by the Betsy DeVos Education Department.

“With this election, Brown University made a historic correction of its 2002 stance to strip graduate students of their collective bargaining rights. And Brown graduate employees recognized that when you stand up and exercise your voice with others, you accomplish far more together than you could alone.

“The AFT will continue to have Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees  back as it negotiates over the teaching and learning conditions that affect everyone at Brown, and we are hopeful this is the first step in forging a partnership with the university that respects every grad employee working on campus.”

Congratulations to the newest members of our AFT family—we can’t wait to see what happens next!

[Leilah Mooney Joseph/AFT Media Affairs]