WUGWU goes to Washington, rallies for grad student protections
Members of the Washington University Graduate Workers’ Union (WUGWU) attended a protest in Washington D.C. objecting to the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) proposal that graduate student workers be classified under federal labor law as students.
Three graduate students from Washington University attended the event, joining students from over eight other universities including the University of Southern California, Duke University and Marquette University. The NLRB’s proposed rule change would strip graduate students of federal labor protections allowing them to unionize and collectively bargain.
WUGWU member and Ph.D. student Lacy Murphy described the experience as “invigorating.”
Members of WUGWU met with Democratic representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who authored a bill to block the NLRB’s proposed rule change.
Later in the day, students visited NLRB’s headquarters to deliver thousands of comments on the change from graduate students nationwide. Four protestors engaged in civil disobedience by blocking the door to the headquarters, while the rest of the students chanted in support. No arrests were made.
According to Murphy, not a single member of the NLRB board agreed to meet with their contingent.
“It was disheartening and agitating to know that while there are clearly a lot of graduate student workers who oppose this ruling and want their voice to be heard, the NLRB is not willing to even begin a dialogue,” Murphy said.
The status of graduate workers has yo-yoed from student to employee four times since the turn of the century, with each administration reversing the classification of the one before.
“It is problematic to have the NLRB constantly changing our status from employee to student with every administration,” Murphy said.
WUGWU member Saumya Deojain, an economics Ph.D. student, said that graduate students’ capacity to organize is integral to their ability to function academically.
“I think that the power to unionize gives us bargaining power over the University and the ability to do productive work,” Deojain said.
Murphy also acknowledged the broader significance of these changes on a national level.
“Removing our right to unionize really sends a message to all workers in the U.S., which is that your rights as workers are not safe,” Murphy said.
The organization will hold a rally outside the Danforth University Center, Nov. 20, to bring attention to the group’s less-publicized priorities, such as free childcare and justice for international students, with the auxiliary objective of reestablishing their on-campus presence.