“They Are Not Negotiating in Good Faith”: Perspectives from the Picket Line


Teamsters 170 organizers join Clark students to protest graduate student exploitation by Clark administration.

Sophia Lindstrom, Scarlet Staff

On Monday, Oct. 3, at 10:30 a.m., Clark University Graduate Workers United (CUGWU) partnered with Teamsters Local 170 to initiate an on-campus strike. Graduate student workers withheld their labor for five days. 

The union sought an official contract with Clark University administration. They organized picket lines at six locations surrounding entrances to the university and remained there around-the-clock. The tumultuous strike ended on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 7, when bargainers from both sides announced that a tentative deal had been made on a contract. It was officially ratified the following week.

According to a statement from CUGWU, the strikers centered their campaign around four principle demands. Prominently featured was the graduate workers’ request for a “living wage” that factored in cost-of-living expenses.

CUGWU strikers also demanded healthcare for themselves and their dependents, “dignified benefits and working conditions,” including the right to file grievances, and ensure union protection for continued partnership with Teamsters Local 170. 

William Westgard-Cruice, a PhD student and Teamster, began day four of the CUGWU strike picketing at the main gates on Main Street. 

“We are on strike for a fair contract that ensures a living wage and accessible healthcare,” he said. Westgard-Cruice noted that healthcare coverage was a priority because many members have families and spouses to take care of.

According to Westgard-Cruice, Teamsters Local 170 has members employed in professions spanning various industries, from UPS drivers and facilities workers to local school district employees and hospital technicians at St. Vincent’s Hospital in downtown Worcester. 

“Some professors are saying, ‘oh, Teamsters, what are they doing here? They just represent truckers!’” he said, while directing picketers on the line. “But in reality,” he continued, “we’re from all sorts of professions.”

“I really want to make sure that undergraduate students know and understand this,” Liam Cleary, a graduate teaching assistant picketing on Maywood Street, emphasized. “My salary is about $24,000 per year. After taxes, that’s about $19,500, and I am the second-highest paid graduate student worker here.”

“Many of my colleagues only make $14,000 per year,” Cleary continued. “If you can find a way just to eat on $14,000 per year, especially with the rents in Worcester where they are now, I’d like to meet you.”

“At a personal level,” Cleary added, “I’m looking for fair pay for the graduate work that I do; I’m looking for fair pay for my colleagues… [and] looking for the respect that we all deserve as graduate workers, teachers, and researchers,” he said.

Nicholas Brunelle, an undergraduate student picketing on Maywood Street, said that he was disappointed in the administration’s response to the strike. “I personally think that it’s despicable that a school that prides itself on changing conventions, helping its students, would not only prevent a union but… stall us, use scabs, [and] pay the Worcester PD to intimidate us.”

“But also, in a more ideological sense, I believe people have a right to organize,” he continued. “And that you need those things to survive. It’s been incredibly difficult for so many grad students here. The school doesn’t care about us beyond being commodities that make money for them. They don’t give a fuck about us. We’re commodities.”


The union bargaining committee met for their first strike negotiation meeting with Clark on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Dean of Students Kamala Kiem forwarded an email to the student body that evening from Provost Royo, who said that the University arrived at the meeting “in good faith” and regretted that it “ended without agreement.” 

“On a related matter,” Royo continued, “the University respects the right of union members to strike and to picket in a lawful manner. Picketers have illegally blocked access to university construction sites and have not moved when requested to do so. At the session today, the University asked union representatives to cease blocking access, and they refused.”

“To encourage further progress, University representatives suggested that a neutral federal mediator be brought in to facilitate a resolution,” Royo concluded. “The union representatives declined.”

The union, too, was disappointed with the result of the negotiations, saying that Clark acted unprofessionally and ended negotiations abruptly as soon as a counteroffer was proposed. 

“We just want to show that we are not content… they are not negotiating in good faith at all,” said Ghillies Ainouch, a physics graduate student and teaching assistant. “I have been to two meetings already and yesterday we were really hoping to get something out of it. It was a good start and they left us hanging for, like, over two hours and they just left.”

“It’s very infuriating, honestly,” he continued. “We just want to keep our unity and show that we’ll keep going until we get the bare minimum, a fair contract.”

“It was just so abrupt how it ended,” Carmen Marazzi, another member of the bargaining committee, added. “We were there, they left, and we were like, well, I guess we’ll order lunch!”

“As soon as we walked out of ASEC (Alumni and Student Engagement Center), I put my bag in the trailer, and then my friend called me and said the faculty got an email,” Marazzi said. “It might not have been intentional, but it felt intentional.”

“We were meeting and then they left the room saying they were deliberating…this is normal in these types of negotiations,” a graduate student added. “You meet, caucus, meet, then caucus. And then my colleagues said they had left for the day…under the impression [the administration] was still meeting with us. We’ve now had to play catch-up explaining to the public.”

Thomas Bilinton, another graduate student picketing on Main Street, was also critical of the administration’s response. 

“Those representing Clark… they don’t know how to separate us students from when we are in there, learning,” he said, gesturing toward the main campus, “to when we are up there,” he finished, pointing to ASEC where the bargaining meeting took place. “When we are up there, we are workers.”

“We think that they have not done everything they could do to resolve this quickly,” Westgard-Cruice added. “We think they’re not serious about resolving this quickly.”

“Some faculty are not supportive at all and some of them are more on the gray side, so I don’t know,” Ghillies Ainouch said about the strike. “Myself, I haven’t gotten any letter of support from my chairman in physics. We had, like, verbal support, but not written support.”

“The administration did something sneaky,” he continued. “They sent subtle threats to faculty asking them to do our work…but we had so much support from undergraduate students. I even had a student emailing the professor I TA for saying, like, ‘oh, if you replace our TA, I won’t come to the class’ so, that helped a lot.”

“Morale is high. The strike will absolutely continue until we get a fair contract,” Cleary said. “The administration…we are at least thankful that they’re saying anything; they previously weren’t saying anything, so, progress is progress,” he said.

“We want to end the strike,” a graduate student noted. “We like coming to work, and we like our jobs. We are willing to do so once the administration comes back to the table.”

“We would love to get back to teaching but we need to do so under a contract that guarantees us a living wage now, not in January, under union protections,” Westgard-Cruice said. “It could end today! They could call us up right now…any disruption of the undergraduate students’ education would be a fault of the university.”

The strike officially ended on Wednesday, Oct. 12, when the contract was ratified by the union.