Graduate students stage eight-hour sit-in urging officials to recognize labor union

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Right to left graduate students Michael Horka, Chelsey Faloona, Julie Chamberlain and Eric Cheuk sit on the eighth floor of Rice Hall during an eight-hour sit-in Thursday.

Graduate students rallying in support of unionization hosted a sit-in in Rice Hall Thursday morning for the second time in the past two weeks.

Members of GW Graduate Students United delivered a letter at about 9:30 a.m. to Provost Forrest Maltzman and University President Thomas LeBlanc asking officials to agree to a third-party election allowing graduate students to establish a collective bargaining unit. The sit-in, which lasted for roughly eight hours, is the latest in a series of demonstrations and social media outreach efforts from the group to sway officials in favor of recognizing a graduate student worker union.

“Thus far, the administration has failed to address the needs and desires of its graduate population, student government and faculty,” the letter reads. “It is unclear how University administration purports to support the values of democracy if it refuses the unequivocal voice of student leadership.”

Second-year doctoral student Jackie Bolduan said after more than 10 protesters graded papers in the hallways for hours, Maltzman met with the group for about 45 minutes to discuss students’ demands – but he reiterated that officials view graduate student employees’ relationship with the University as educational, not professional.

“Time and time again, we continue to find that that is one of the places that we disagree and it’s not just a matter of opinion, it’s a refusal to recognize that our survival is tied to our labor here at the University and we don’t make enough money to live here,” Bolduan said.

Graduate students launched efforts to unionize in the fall, citing low pay and inadequate health care plans as reasons to collectively bargain. Officials initially voiced opposition to the union and declined to meet with graduate students in March, but Maltzman later met with leaders of the group after more than 20 graduate students staged an hour-long sit-in in Rice Hall two weeks ago.

But after graduate students said they walked out of the meeting with the same list of demands they have had for months, more than 50 students protested outside of Rice Hall earlier this month.

Fifth-year doctoral candidate Michael Horka said Maltzman didn’t answer the students’ concerns with anything “substantive,” and that while the graduate students were disappointed with his response, “we feel like we have the intellectual and moral high ground.”

“It’s not going to get any easier for the administration to defend their decisions,” Horka said. “I think it’s really going to embarrass the administration and the type of image that they portray about GW.”

Both the Student Association Senate and the GW Faculty Association have voiced support for the unionization effort.

James Hannaway, a second-year law student, said Thursday’s sit-in differs from the last because the students had a specific goal – to get administrators to agree to an election – whereas the previous sit-in was an effort to schedule a meeting with officials. But he said it is “unfortunate” that students have to stage sit-ins at all.

“The administration should meet with workers that have concerns about their living and working conditions,” he said. “They shouldn’t totally refuse.”

Lizzie Mintz and Meredith Roaten contributed reporting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.