FAQ & Myths
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about unionization
FREQUENTLY TOLD MYTHS about unionization
more FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS for scientists, courtesy Dave Spiegel of the astronomy department: click here.
UAW Local 2110 · 113 University Place, fifth floor · New York, NY 10003 · (212) 387.0220 · fax: (212) 228.0198 · firstname.lastname@example.org
Morningside Heights Office: 430 West 119th Street · New York, NY 10027 · (212) 749.6703 · TOP2110@2110uaw.org
|FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS|
is Collective Bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship
between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, we
will elect representatives to negotiate a binding contract with Columbia
that sets out the terms of our employment. With collective bargaining,
graduate employee unions can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours,
benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.
will Collective Bargaining be beneficial?
The purpose of collective bargaining is to bargain a contract that covers wages, benefits, terms and conditions of our employment. Collective bargaining gives us a democratic voice in improving our lives. Through it, graduate employee unions have successfully improved stipends, healthcare and other benefits and addressed other issues such as workload and job safety. For example, unionized graduate employees at the University of California (represented by UAW, Local 2865) have negotiated a contract that provides:
-- Secure job
would the process of collective bargaining work at Columbia?
Once the union is recognized to collectively bargain with the University, all members of the bargaining unit will be surveyed in order to find out what they want to see included in a contract. Members of the bargaining unit will also elect representatives, fellow Teaching and Research Assistants, to a bargaining committee. The bargaining committee will then sit down with the administration and negotiate a tentative contract. Once a tentative agreement has been reached, GSEU members must vote to accept or reject the contract.
will be able to participate in the union?
Although people will only be formally covered by the contract during the semesters that they hold positions in the bargaining unit, there are various ways in which other graduate students could participate in the union. In the graduate employees union at UMass, Amherst, for example, membership is open to everyone in the bargaining unit plus everyone who has held a position in the bargaining unit within the previous 12 months. In the graduate employees union at the University of California, Berkeley, membership is open to everyone in the bargaining unit as well as to any current graduate student who has ever worked in the bargaining unit.
about membership dues?
Dues are important to any union because they provide the financial resources
necessary to equalize power with the employer. Under UAW policy, no
one will pay any dues until after we successfully negotiate a contract.
After a contract is in place, union members will pay just 1.5% of our
gross salary in dues during semesters when we have jobs covered under
the contract. Benefits such as healthcare and tuition remission are
exempt from dues under the UAW Constitution. The amount we will pay
in dues is small compared to the improvements we can make through collective
are the rights of international students to participate in the union?
International students have the same legal right to join a union
as American citizens. The visa requirement that international students
may only accept employment associated with the University they attend
in no way compromises the right to belong to a Union that represents
them in the workplace. No graduate employee union has reported any complications
among their members arising from the dual status of being both an international
student and a unionized employee.
New York University
representing graduate employees at NYU, negotiated its first contract
with the NYU administration in January 2002. GSOC/UAW is an autonomous
bargaining unit within UAW Local 2110.
NYU UPDATE: GSOC's first contract expired in August of 2005, and the NYU administration is refusing to renegotiate. Graduate assistants there have been on strike since November 9, 2005. Read more at GSOC's website.
University of California
UAW Local 2865, representing graduate employees throughout the University
of California system (UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Davis, UC
Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz and UC Riverside), was recognized
University of Iowa
(Campaign to Organize Graduate Students/United Electrical Workers) was
recognized in 1996.
University of Massachusetts
GEO/UAW (UMASS Graduate Employee Organization) was recognized in 1990
at the Amherst campus, in 1993 at the Lowell campus, and in 2000 at
the Boston campus.
University of Michigan
GEO/AFT, the graduate union at the University of Michigan is one of
the oldest in the country and has represented grad employees there since
there already an election to certify the union?
Yes, there was an election in March of 2002. Nearly 1500 teaching and research assistants voted in the election. The votes were never counted, however, as the University appealed our right to unionize to the federal National Labor Relations Board. On July 13th, 2004, the Bush-appointed Republican majority on the Board overturned the NYU decision, which declared that teaching and research assistants are employees under the National Labor Relations Act. This decision means that the ballots from our election, as well as the ballots from elections at Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, and Tufts University, will be destroyed without ever being counted. Regardless of the Board's decision, however, it is absolutely within the administration's power to recognize our union at any time and begin negotiations for a fair contract. We intend to continue our efforts to form a TA and RA union here at Columbia.
|FREQUENTLY TOLD MYTHS|
we unionize, our stipends could go down!
Your stipends won't go down. That defeats our purpose for forming a union. For proof check out the contracts of all the Graduate Employee Unions in the country on our Links site. You'll see no Graduate Employee that ever unionized had their stipends reduced. That's because with a union we bargain our own stipends, and no one wants to bargain for lower stipends. At NYU for example every Graduate Employee received a $2000 raise in the first year of their contract, and a guaranteed raise every year of the contract. Take a look at their contract.
union could ruin our relationships with our advisors!
A union can't harm faculty relationships because a union has nothing to do with our relationship to our professors. Instead, a union changes our relationship to the administration. With a union we would negotiate with the administration over such things as stipends, health insurance, grievance procedures, and other University policies that affect us. None of those things are decided by our faculty, they're decided by administrators. For additional proof, read this article that found more than 9 out of 10 faculty feel a union doesn't affect their relationship with their students.
contracts are rigid; we might lose flexibility with a union!
Not true. Since we negotiate our contract, it can be as flexible as we want it. We could use a contract to protect the flexibility we currently have, while still making improvements in other areas. For example the NYU contract sets a minimum stipend for Graduate Employees, but the University is free to exceed that, and in several departments it does (see page A-1 of the NYU contract.)
union is a bunch of outsiders. They don't know anything about graduate
Actually, the Union is the Teaching and Research Assistants. It's you and your lab mates, classmates, and office mates; hardly a bunch of "outsiders." A union is made up of, and run by, the members themselves. As TAs and RAs, we run our union and decided what to bargain over.
UAW isn't a good union for teaching and research assistants!
The UAW is the union for teaching and research assistants. They represent more graduate employees that any other union in the nation. They have a long history of being a strong union in higher education, and in 2002, adjunct faculty at NYU voted to unionize with the UAW. The UAW has been politically active on behalf of graduate employees by fighting for fewer restrictions on student visas, for affirmative action, lobbying for worker ownership of international worker visas, increased funding of environmental research, and more opportunities for graduate student funding.
don't need a union. The administration will make things better!
Administrators have made promises before, sometimes they keep them, sometimes they don't, and sometimes the Administrators change. Rather than have the administration unilaterally decide on "improvements" for us, we want to help negotiate over them, and then put them in writing. We want to help improve the working conditions for TAs and RAs. By forming a union we would have a democratic voice in shaping the policies and procedures that affect us, and the guarantees of a contract.
autoworkers go on strike, then we'll have to go on strike!
Only we decide if, and when, we want to strike. Labor solidarity on the local, state, and national levels will give our union strength. It is vitally important for us to support other unions, and support takes many forms. However, union members are never forced to strike when other unions strike. According to the UAW Constitution, strike authorization would require a 2/3 majority of a GSEU membership vote. Even if a supermajority of union members were to approve a strike, no individual can be forced to strike against their will.