A bill that would have given collective bargaining rights to graduate student employees at the University System of Maryland’s public four-year universities failed to make it on to the State House or Senate floor Monday in time for a vote.
Collective bargaining rights would enable graduate student workers to negotiate contracts with employers. Under the current system model, called meet-and-confer, graduate students and the graduate school debate job-related issues without a structured agreement. Workers cannot take their concerns to the National Labor Relations Board, as they could if this bill had passed, said Graduate Student Government Public Relations Vice President Katie Brown.
In March 2017, a bill that would have granted collective bargaining rights to both undergraduate and graduate student workers failed to move out of the House Appropriations Committee in time for a vote. Legislators told student activists that the bill was too broad, so they and Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery County) amended it to exclude undergraduate student workers, said Will Howell, president of the Graduate Assistant Advisory Committee.
[Read more: A new collective bargaining bill excludes undergraduates. Many of them oppose it.]
Howell said that legislators did not bring up any issues with the content of the bill this year when he and other student activists met with them.
Brown said that the bill’s fate did not surprise activists.
“What we’ve learned with the Maryland General Assembly is that you have to come back year after year after year,” she said. “You have to pay some dues to get your bill passed. We’re up for a multi-year fight.”
Brown said she and other graduate students will continue to develop relationships with lawmakers and work with Korman and Sen. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery County), who sponsored the bill in the House and the Senate, respectively.
GSG chief of staff Caden Fabbi said that while he’s disappointed the bill wasn’t successful this year, the people who care about the issue aren’t “going anywhere.”
“We know that in the legislature, it takes multiple years of prodding and consistency to get anything done, and so as long as we continue to prod, I think eventually a wall will be broken down and we’ll be able to pass this legislation,” he said.
[Read more: A plan to increase grad students’ stipends is in the works at UMD, Loh says]
The bill was cross-filed in the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee and received hearings in both committees in February. More than 100 graduate students and faculty members in the system submitted testimony in favor of the bill, and Graduate School Interim Dean Steve Fetter and Carolyn Skolnik, the system’s associate vice chancellor for human resources, drove to Annapolis to testify against it in front of the Senate committee.
In her testimony, Skolnik said that the system “remains comfortable with the current law” because graduate assistants receive tuition remission and subsidized health care.
While the Senate committee did not take any action on the bill before the end of the legislative session on Monday, the bill’s sponsor in the House withdrew it after it received an unfavorable report from the House committee.
Korman said he withdrew the bill before committee members voted whether to move it to the House floor because the bill did not seem like it was going to have the support it needed to be passed.
“We withdrew it so it could live to fight another day,” he said.
As he did when that bill died in committee last year, Korman said he plans to talk with advocates about amending the bill again to increase its chance of success if he is re-elected in November.
The group would be open to merging the graduate student collective bargaining bill with another collective bargaining bill that was proposed this legislative year, Fabbi said, but “the spirit needs to stay the same — that we’re getting collective bargaining rights for graduate assistants.”
Bills that would have granted collective bargaining rights to some workers at Maryland community colleges and adjunct faculty at the University of Maryland University College also failed to leave committees in the House and Senate this legislative session. Both excluded graduate student workers from receiving these rights.
“Obviously it’s disappointing that [this bill] didn’t go anywhere this year because we know how good the legislation would be,” said Fabbi. “But there are students who are dedicated to the issue on campus … we’re not going to go away.”