University of Maryland community members testified on a collective bargaining bill in front of a state Senate committee hearing Thursday.
The bill would grant graduate assistants and faculty the right to unionize and negotiate wage, hours and other conditions of employment at University System of Maryland campuses, Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
This bill differs from similar legislation proposed in the past because it extends unionization rights to faculty on the tenure-track, non-tenure track and part-time, rather than only to graduate assistants.
SB0247’s House crossfile, HB0275, had a similar hearing in the appropriations committee Tuesday.
State Sen. Benjamin Kramer (D-Montgomery) introduced the bill.
“Colleagues, this is long overdue,” Kramer said. “Let’s ensure we maintain the finest university system in the country and give these hardworking folks … the opportunity to bargain collectively if they choose.”
Several faculty and students across the university system testified in favor of this bill.
Karin Rosemblatt, a history professor at this university and vice president of this university’s American Association of University Professors, testified in favor of this bill. Rosemblatt said she feels like system administrators are trying to create divisions between graduate assistants and faculty, as well as between tenured and part-time faculty, through their opposition to collective bargaining.
“The [university] takes in about $132 million more than it spends … that’s about $30,000 more for each graduate assistant,” Rosemblatt said.
Fearless Student Employees President Jan-Michael Archer also testified in favor of this bill.
Archer said he told the house appropriations committee in a similar hearing on Feb. 14 about the poor working conditions he experienced as a graduate research assistant.
Archer said his attempts to navigate the grievance process were met with bullying and retaliation from his advisor.
“I explicitly shared how escalating abuses impacted my mental health, nearly driving me to suicide,” Archer said. “What followed my oral testimony were galling claims from some of the same USM administrators who are here today, including the claim that graduate assistants are students first, as if that justifies our poor treatment.”
Jaden Mikoulinskii, a higher education graduate student at this university, is all too familiar with the failures of the current structure of shared governance, she said.
Mikoulinskii said there is a “harmful narrative” that collective bargaining will be a distraction to universities and their communities.
Several university administrators testified against the bill.
“Shared governance within the USM is dynamic and nimble,” university system Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Alison Wrynn said.
In a recent survey conducted of campus sets of chairs, faculty described shared governance on their campus as moving toward open collaboration and communication, according to Wrynn. Under this system, Wrynn said faculty and administrators can work together without a formal collective bargaining agreement.
Graduate assistants are students first, this university’s Provost Jennifer King Rice said. Their stipends are not salaries and not subject to payroll taxes.
“The progress [the university] has made without collective bargaining includes a 58 percent increase in minimum stipends over the past five years and a 32 percent increase alone in the last year,” Rice said.
Steve Fetter, this university’s graduate school dean, also testified against the bill. Fetter has testified against similar bills in past MGA sessions.
It can be impossible to distinguish between the graduate assistant duties and research required for a degree, making the inclusion of research assistants in this bill problematic, Fetter said. Other peer institutions with collective bargaining exclude research assistants for this reason, according to Fetter.
Collective bargaining will interfere with the professional mentorship relationship formed with master’s students, Towson University Dean of Graduate Studies Sidd Kaza said.
Between the stipend level increases, Towson University has increased their investment in graduate assistants by $1.1 million since the spring of 2018, according to Kaza.
The bill must pass through both legislative chambers before the end of session and receive approval from the governor to become a law. If it passes, it will go into effect in July.