Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 21, 2024

TRU-UE threatens strike amid stalled negotiations

By NICK DAUM | March 13, 2024



TRU-UE and administration are progressing in contract negotiations, but the union recently introduced a strike pledge due to disagreements over fair wages and benefits.

Following another round of negotiations with the Hopkins administration last month, the Hopkins graduate student union, Teachers and Researchers United (TRU-UE), announced a strike pledge on Tuesday, March 5. In the pledge, members expressed their willingness to strike if they do not reach an agreement with the administration regarding competitive wages and fair benefits.

TRU-UE is currently focused on three main provisions in their negotiations with University administration: the establishment of a union shop, the recognition of their work as work and an increase in wages and benefit programs. The union has been involved in 41 negotiation sessions with the administration over the past nine months.

In an email to The News-Letter, Jayati Sharma, a member of the TRU-UE bargaining committee, explained the results of their recent bargaining sessions and recognized that progress has been made in negotiations.

“After our 500-person practice picket on February 20th, we had a bargaining session on February 22nd,” she wrote. “At this session and in direct response to our core demands of union shop and recognition of our work as work, JHU admin showed massive movement on both recognition of our work as work, through the guarantee of fair discipline procedures, and also guaranteed a strong version of union shop that will ensure the lasting strength of our union for years to come.”

However, TRU-UE is still displeased with the lack of progress in negotiations for fair wages and benefits, promising to strike if these demands are not met.

Sharma stated that union leadership has already spoken with over 1,000 graduate students and most members are open to striking if demands are not met. The strike pledge has already garnered several hundred votes from members.

Janvi Madhani, another member of the TRU-UE bargaining committee, commented on the issues with current negotiations in an email to The News-Letter.

“The university is still withholding fair compensation in the form of fair wages and benefits from us,” she wrote. “We will continue to meet them at the table and organize alongside our members to fight for these core demands without which we will not accept a contract.”

The strike pledge does not guarantee that the union will strike, and no announcements have been made regarding official proposals for striking. Sharma wrote that although the union is willing to strike, they would cancel plans if the administration agrees to guarantee fair wages and benefits for union members.

“We don't want to have to strike, but we need basic fair working conditions to do the research that keeps this university functional, the research we are passionate about, and the work that we came to Hopkins to do,” she wrote. “We are pledging our willingness to strike in the future if JHU does not agree to competitive wages and fair benefits. Importantly, Hopkins can avoid a strike at any time by guaranteeing a competitive wage and fair benefits in our contract.”

Sharma commented that she is glad that progress has been made in union negotiations with the University, as two of their three demands have been met. In the previous nine months, the union reached tentative agreements with the University on several other provisions, including the creation of stronger grievance procedures, appointment letters, guaranteed timely payment and protections against discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

In her communications with The News-Letter, Madhani described the meaning of signing a strike pledge and what it means for the union’s negotiations with the University administration.

“Signing a strike pledge signifies that we understand that the admin has left us no choice but to organize towards a strike,” she wrote. “Pledging to strike is a commitment that we are willing to withhold our labor until we collectively win the contract we all deserve. To the admin, this strike pledge signals the strength of our strike power and the impact withholding our labor would have.”

Hopkins administration has not released a statement regarding the union’s strike pledge or whether they plan to address the issue of fair wages and benefits in future negotiations. No further bargaining sessions have been planned following the announcement of the union’s strike pledge.

Madhani further wrote about her own reasons for signing the pledge and for her willingness to strike while highlighting the importance of graduate student labor.

“Personally, I pledged to strike because I dream of a world in which our labor and humanity as workers are treated with the dignity they deserve. We are fighting for a contract that wins for ALL of our members and I'm willing to go on strike until we win it,” she wrote. “Nothing dramatizes the conflict between capital and labor and forces people to pick a side quite like a strike and it's time we pick the side of labor because we run Hopkins.”

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