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Brown University Graduate Students Reach Union Contract

June 4, 2020, 2:36 PM

A union of graduate student workers at Brown University reached a tentative bargaining agreement with administrators, a first for an Ivy League university amid a growing push by unions to mount an end-run around the National Labor Relations Board.

The agreement includes stipend increases for the first year, a yearlong appointment extension due to the Covid-19 pandemic for more advanced graduate students, reimbursement for Covid-19 testing and related medical costs, and a new system to adjudicate sexual harassment claims outside of Title IX, the union said in a statement.

The tentative agreement was reached entirely outside of the NLRB process, reflecting unions’ concern that the Republican-controlled board, which oversees private-sector union elections, could try to nix graduate students’ ability to organize. The deal must still be ratified.

The union, known as Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees, and school administrators in 2018 agreed to hold an election overseen by an independent third party, the American Arbitration Association, instead of the NLRB. Brown Provost Richard Locke said the approach would avoid the “polarization and divisiveness” surrounding graduate student unions on other campuses.

The NLRB last year issued a proposal to prevent student workers at private universities and colleges from forming or joining a union, a right granted to most private-sector workers under the National Labor Relations Act. The proposal hasn’t been finalized.

Graduate students at Georgetown University last month secured a bargaining agreement by circumventing the NLRB. Both unions organized under the American Federation of Teachers.

The 1,200-plus Brown graduate students “have met this moment and won job security and financial protections as the country faces unprecedented economic, health and racial justice crises,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “They have shown that the power of collective action is the best way to fight back and get results, not only for themselves but for millions of contingent workers like them.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Kullgren in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at; Martha Mueller Neff at