BU Graduate Workers Union

A strike is a coordinated stoppage of work aimed at pressuring an employer to meet worker demands by disrupting production: as graduate university workers, this includes classroom instruction, research, grades, tutoring, and more. Going on strike means we collectively do not work and use the importance of our labor as critical leverage to achieve our goals. We will also set up picket lines on campus as physical venues for coordinating and sustaining this stoppage.

In short, because of the intransigence of the bosses at the bargaining table. BUGWU has been negotiating with BU since June 2023 and for much of this time BU’s strategy has been to stall and delay. We have also seen commonplace proposals like union security met with aggressive opposition from BU’s negotiations team. On compensation, BU has only offered minimal raises – nowhere near what is necessary for us to sustainably afford the cost of housing in Boston. It is becoming increasingly clear that we have to take action to put pressure on the bosses if we want to win a fair contract.

Strikes work because employers depend on the labor of their workers to operate – BU is no exception. If we withhold our labor, we will disrupt core functions of the university. Graduate workers are central to the daily operation of the university; we teach classes and discussion sessions to thousands of BU students and make up a significant amount of the one-on-one interaction with students. We therefore have the leverage to get our demands met: if we withhold grades and refuse to teach or do paid research we make it impossible for BU to function normally.


We’ve seen fellow grad workers at Columbia and Michigan build and exercise collective power through indefinite strikes that resulted in historic wins, including: large salary increases, better childcare subsidies, harassment and discrimination protections, and full unit recognition (that had been denied by the bosses at Columbia for years).

Coordinating and sustaining the strike will take significant worker-to-worker organizing and behind-the-scenes work. Everyone should support the strike effort and take time to join the picket line, conduct mutual aid activities, talk to faculty and community members about the strike, and so forth. All of this is work that you can do!

First and foremost: withholding our labor. Stopping our work can take several forms. 

Instructors, teaching assistants, tutors, and graders should not conduct classes, discussion sections, or office hours (on campus, online, or off campus), assign homework, grade assignments, or submit grades. 

It is not necessary, however, to cease all contact with our students: it is important that they understand what we are doing and why. Because our working conditions are their learning conditions, our students should be informed and involved long before the strike begins.  During the strike, we can educate them further about our shared conditions through teach-ins conducted outside of university channels and by inviting them to our picket line. We will not, however, discuss or provide them course materials, assignments, grades, lessons, or perform any duties related to our paid work.

It’s hard to feel like you’re leaving your students behind for a while, but remember, our working conditions directly affect the quality of education we are able to give our students. An instructor making a living wage is an instructor who can focus on their class, and not where next month’s rent is coming from— a short-term disruption to learning now means a serious improvement in long-term education. Not to mention that many advanced undergrads are planning to become grad students themselves very soon.

In the meantime, you can give your students a valuable field lesson in labor politics with real-world applications. You can even invite them to the picket line. If you would like some resources and materials to distribute to students, refer to this guide or reach out to a union steward.

The separation between “work” and “research” that exists among grad instructors is far less clear or common among researchers. This complicates what a strike would look like for researchers in our unit and many of you may rightfully have concerns and questions about maintaining live animals and sensitive biological samples, sabotaging your own dissertation research, and navigating the thorny enmeshment that researchers have with supervisors. Furthermore, the labor processes in these labs do not align with one another, meaning that a strike at any given time will affect various labs in drastically different ways.

Where possible, research assistants should cease all research that is not tied to their dissertation. For those who can’t easily make this determination, or who have no real separation, we believe that time spent on the picket line or other approved strike support activities is time not spent working for BU. Your graduate worker colleagues and union staff are happy to help you assess your unique situation..

Federal labor law protects our right to strike and engage in lawful strike activities such as peaceful picketing without retaliation. However, there are certain requirements and even limitations we must observe, which is why we approach this strike with extreme care and diligence.  

Federal labor law does not allow us to be fired for legally protected strike activity, but it does allow an employer to replace us in order to maintain operations. In the event replacements are hired, our right to reinstatement depends on whether our strike was protected (because we followed the appropriate regulations), as well as whether or not the strike is over unfair labor practices. We are confident our strike meets the definition of a protected action and will defend all workers should BU take any actions against us.    

In order to break the strike, BU or individual supervisors  might choose to threaten workers with discipline or dismissal, with interference in immigration status, or with other forms of retaliation regardless of legality. If the strike is threatening business as usual — that is, if the strike is doing what it should do — BU may even illegally fire workers. Our union has successfully fought back against illegal retaliation like this before when other workers were fired and will fight just as hard to ensure justice for us. This is why we stand together!

What is important to know here is that while the law is a tool we can and should use to our advantage when we can, it is not a magic wand that can wave away all risk. Our biggest strengths are our capacity to withhold labor and our solidarity with each other. When everyone participates, it becomes more difficult for the administration to target individuals for intimidation. A strong strike is how we best protect each other

Employers are legally allowed to survey workers to see if someone is planning to strike, so long as there is no retaliation for the response or for choosing not to respond at all. If your supervisor states or suggests that you are required to respond, or that you will face discipline for not responding, please notify our union staff immediately so that we can make sure our legal rights are enforced. If you choose to answer when asked, you must answer honestly; reporting that you intend to work and then not showing up for your shift may lead to negative consequences for you. Similarly, if you fill out timesheets or other documentation of work performed in order to receive pay you must report your time accurately.

Employers are legally allowed to withhold pay from striking workers. It’s up to BU to figure out who is striking and who is not. (See 3.2 and 3.4 for more details.)

As members of SEIU Local 509, we are eligible for strike pay through the Local’s strike fund. Strike pay is $40 per day, up to $200 per week. In order to be eligible for strike fund pay, you must be on the picket line or engaged in other approved strike support activities for at least 4 hours for that day.

We are also working to set up a union-wide hardship fund that striking workers can apply to if they are facing exceptional financial hardship. A committee is currently establishing bylaws for how those funds will be distributed and more information will be available as we get closer to the actual strike.

Finally, we recommend you reach out to your coworkers to identify who among you is particularly vulnerable and set up some form of mutual aid response if necessary: this could be as simple as pooling groceries or providing childcare for your coworkers. We will bargain for compensation that makes up for lost pay, but there are no guarantees. Some economic hardships may be unavoidable, but if we call for a strike it is because we think it is in our long term best interest.

“Scabbing” or “strikebreaking” refers to activity that disrupts or weakens the power of a strike, including but not limited to: continuing to work during the strike, taking on a colleague’s work while they are on strike, encouraging others not to strike, and communicating with management about your paid work — including telling management that a colleague is absent from work. 

Management might solicit such information from you, your colleagues, your teachers, your students, and other employees. We encourage you to make sure your faculty and students know why you’re striking. It’s easier for them to do the right thing if asked to report on you if they understand and support your actions.

International workers have the same rights as domestic workers to join a union or participate in a strike, demonstration, picket, etc. It is possible, however,  that the university will falsely claim or imply that international workers jeopardize their immigration status by striking — other universities have done so in the past to undermine strikes. Your visa status is tied to your academic status, and it is illegal for BU to retaliate against your academic status based on your employment activities. Thus, it is extremely unlikely that international workers will be targeted in this way, but it is not impossible. This would be a very dangerous escalation on the part of the University, and one that would be sure to face public backlash and pressure.