Stanford Graduate Workers Union introduces controversial statement on Israel-Gaza conflict at first meeting

Stanford Graduate Workers Union (SGWU) held their first meeting Wednesday, presenting their bargaining platform to members ahead of their presentation to the University next Friday. Members expressed disagreement over a statement that expressed solidarity with Palestinian Trade Unions and called for University divestment from Israel.

“This is not something that’s just happening here at Stanford. This is a massive nationwide movement, and we’re all a part of it,” said Thom Chaffee, a fourth-year geophysics Ph.D. student and bargaining committee member from the Doerr School of Sustainability. 

SGWU is the official platform from which graduate workers can engage in collective bargaining with the University. 

Nora Enright, a fifth-year bioengineering Ph.D. student and union member, introduced workers’ rights as a long-standing issue and said SGWU’s platform would push for timely payment, intellectual property and copyright protections, overwork issues and job security.

“We’re looking for protections for international, immigrant and undocumented workers, including full financial and legal support for whatever it takes to work in this country,” Enright said. 

Chaffee presented the process of bargaining with Stanford: voting on the platform will close on Nov. 1, and the first two bargaining sessions will be held on Nov. 3 and Nov. 6, respectively. After this, the SGWU expects that Stanford will return with a counter proposal.

However, Chaffee said this is not discouraging for the SGWU. 

“They are required to negotiate with us and to reach an agreement. We may not get every last thing we want, but that’s okay. This is our first contract and there’s no way that it’s our last,” Chaffee said. 

Once the language of the terms has been negotiated, Chaffee said they will move on to economic proposals. To be transparent, Chaffee said the public will be able to track the bargaining process online. 

In the case that the SGWU and the University reach a tentative agreement, the SGWU can vote ‘No’ and go through the bargaining process again.

“Stanford wants this to drag out and we’re not going to let them make this process take three years … We’re going to win our contract,” Chaffee said.

Chafee called for the community to show support through a SGWU rally on Nov. 3, increased SGWU participation and voluntary dues.

“Remember, we are going up against Stanford, one of the top five richest universities in the world. We cannot match their spending, but we can outpace them in enthusiasm and turnout and effort and passion,” Chaffee said.

Jason Anderson, a fifth-year aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D. student and the SGWU aeronautics and astronautics committee representative, spoke about fellows’ space in the union. 

“Stanford believes that there is no service expected in return for a fellowship. And that’s why you can’t be a part of this union,” Anderson said. 

Fellows’ inclusion in the union will be the bargaining committee’s “hardest ask,” Anderson said, citing a similar proposal from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Graduate Student Union that was recently met with difficulty. “You think that now is tense? MIT was tense and they did not get this. We can only win this with you all showing up when called,” Anderson said. 

Enright touched on the bargaining platform’s hope for disability accommodations, which they said are not currently offered for graduate workers. According to Enright, the bargaining platform includes the “most expensive non-discrimination policy in any graduate contract.” To achieve this, the SGWU is pushing for independent grievance procedures, where a union member can represent a graduate in any disciplinary meeting.

Steven Ortega, a third-year student at Stanford Law School and member of the bargaining contract team, spoke about the upcoming vote. Any graduate worker who signed a union card and has either worked in the past year, or is required to work during their degree program, is eligible to vote. For one week, they can vote through a secure ballot platform via email.

Ortega said two things will be voted on: the bargaining platform and a separate statement on Palestine introduced by SGWU members and approved by the contract action team. Eligible voters can vote on one or both of the statements.

“It’s up to you now as the members of Stanford Graduate Workers Union to look at this, to ratify it and, in keeping with our principles of union democracy, if you’re unhappy with it, to reject it as well, so we can start over,” Ortega said.

During a question and answer session, some audience members expressed disagreement with the upcoming vote on SGWU’s statement on the Israel-Gaza conflict. 

A version of the statement obtained by The Daily criticizes a Oct. 11 message to the University from President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez: “Without a similarly unequivocal condemnation of the crimes against humanity that have long been unfolding in occupied Palestine, and without divestment from the companies complicit for these crimes, Stanford’s administration fails its founding grant, its promise of ‘university neutrality,’ and its campus community.” 

The statement also calls on the University to divest from “corporations that are complicit in and directly responsible for the global arms trade,” including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Caterpillar and Boeing.

The statement concludes with: “SGWU is in solidarity with the Palestinian Trade Unions, which have called on ‘all people of conscience to end all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes.’ SGWU stands against the illegal occupation of Palestine, the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people, and the apartheid system under which Palestinian people live, and we urge our employer to do the same.”

An audience member, who did not identify themselves, said, “This is terrifying, as a pro-Israeli.” Many said they felt blind-sighted that this was introduced and criticized the SGWU for a lack of transparency.

Others attendees expressed varying views on the Israel-Gaza war and asked the SGWU to not vote on anything until the official bylaws are written. 

The SGWU said that anything voted on at Thursday meetings is reflective of the union members present, and that the statement in question was reflective of those who were most involved. One union member said the meeting notes are on Slack, which is available to over 600 members. 

Reagan Nicole M.A. ’17, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in communications, acknowledged that the SGWU is still in its early stages.

“I want everyone to be respectful, especially to the union leaders who are leading this meeting,” she said. “Please assume best intentions and let’s move in that way.”