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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Graduate students stage walkout protest for higher stipends and other benefits

Following the protest, the College offered a counter-proposal to the union, continuing the bargaining process.

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On March 27, the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth-United Electrical Workers — the College’s graduate workers union — staged a walkout protest on the Green. According to Rendi Rogers, a GOLD-UE organizer and Ph.D student at the Geisel School of Medicine, the protestors decided to gather after the College failed to provide a counter-offer to their demands for higher compensation and other benefits by their March 7 deadline. 

According to Rogers, approximately 300 graduate students and supporters — including faculty members and undergraduate students — gathered to protest. Rogers said the union is bargaining for higher stipends and various benefits — including child care support, dental coverage, expanded vision coverage, healthcare coverage for dependents and retirement benefits. 

“There is a lot still on the table that our members say they are willing to fight for,” Rogers said.

The College and GOLD-UE have engaged in negotiations over proposed articles since Aug. 25, 2023, with tentative agreements reached on 16 of the 28 articles,  according to the group’s bargain tracker. These articles include agreements related to an inclusive work environment, international employee rights and non-discrimination.

Logan Mann, a GOLD-UE organizer and third-year Ph.D student at the Thayer School of Engineering, said one of the group’s primary motivations is “simply to afford to live here in the Upper Valley.” Mann said graduate students have been unable to afford healthcare, housing and food due to increases in cost of living — with some students relying on food banks to “survive.” 

“We’re just getting everyone out to show that we’re here, we’re well-organized and our membership supports our demands,” Mann said. 

The protesters gathered on the Green with signs expressing various frustrations with the College, ranging from “give us dental or give us death” to “living wage or workers rage.” Student Workers Collective at Dartmouth member Roan Wade ’25 described the atmosphere at the protest as “exhilarating.” 

“You could just feel within the crowd, not just the frustration towards the College, but a sense of hope,” Wade said. “There’s obviously a sense of outrage, but also amongst workers, there is a tremendous amount of community.”

Rogers said the “fight” for a living wage was ongoing before the union was officially recognized or nationally affiliated last April.

“Over two-thirds of us are rent-burdened, which means we spend over 30% of our income on rent,” Rogers said. “[The College] said they would have an offer back to us by our bargaining session on March 7, but came empty-handed. They even canceled the bargaining session last week.”

GOLD-UE bargaining committee member Genevieve Goebel, a fifth-year Ph.D candidate at the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, said the walkout protested the College’s lack of response to the union’s economic proposals in the past two months.

Ankita Sarkar, an international student and third-year Ph.D candidate at Guarini, said that international students feared “their visa status may be at risk” throughout the bargaining process.

“Dartmouth has been dragging their heels and employing delaying tactics at the bargaining table,” Sarkar said. “[The College is] trying to sabotage us at the bargaining table, and the rally is to let them know not to do that, and that we will strike if necessary.”

According to the website of the Provost’s office, the College believes that collective bargaining is responsible for delayed decision-making.

“Dartmouth feels that unionization is counterproductive to addressing the needs of our graduate students,” the website states. “We feel that collective bargaining may actually slow down our ability to respond quickly and decisively to situations that arise; the process may also introduce additional costs, time and bureaucracy to making decisions that directly affect graduate students.”

At the protest, Rogers also said the union had launched a strike pledge — meaning members would strike if they did not hear back from the College regarding their economic demands at their bargaining meeting on March 29. At the meeting, the College offered a counterproposal, effectively staving off the strike and continuing the bargaining process.

In the counter proposal, the College rejected the union’s request for a minimum stipend of $55,000 and instead offered a stipend of $46,000. According to the Guarini website, graduate students currently receive a stipend of $40,000. 

“Feedback we received from members during our caucus portion of the bargaining session was that $46,000 isn’t enough, especially without a cost of living adjustment tied to our annual raises,” Rogers said. 

According to Wade, a “historic win” in the SWCD contract means that the graduate students who work for Dartmouth Dining Services could also participate in the GOLD-UE strike. Wade also discussed a possible sympathy strike by the SWCD.

“It is really important for us to show solidarity with our fellow workers,” Wade said. “That means potentially going on a sympathy strike … We, as workers, are the ones who hold the power. We can grind this university to a halt.”

The College did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.