Frequently Asked Questions about forming a union

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What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining allows graduate employees, to negotiate wages, terms, and conditions of employment with the University. With collective bargaining, our elected representatives (fellow NYU/Poly graduate employees) will survey us to determine our priorities and then negotiate a contract with the NYU/Poly administration. We can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, and benefits, as well as the terms and conditions of our employment. We, as a whole, must democratically approve the agreement that NYU/Poly and our bargaining team reach before it becomes a legally binding contract that cannot be unilaterally changed.

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Why the UAW?

We, as NYU/Poly employees, are affiliated with the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), one of the largest and most diverse unions in North America, with members in virtually every sector of the economy. The UAW represents over 20,000 TAs and RAs at over 30 university campuses, including UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Washington and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The UAW has long been a pioneer in winning the right to form a union for workers in higher education. You can see the contracts online at University of California, University of Massachusetts, University of Washington and California State University to see the kinds of provisions they have been able to win. You can also download a copy of the GSOC/UAW Local 2110 contract here, which was the first contract won for graduate employees at a private university in the US. Graduate employees at NYU are currently organizing to win a new contract after being stripped of their organizing rights.

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What does signing a union card mean?

Signing a union card means that you believe in your right to form a union and bargain collectively with the university over pay, workload conditions, healthcare, sick leave and other workplace issues that affect you. And it means you - like the majority of graduate employees on campus - would like the UAW to represent you in collective bargaining with the NYU/Poly administration.

We encourage your more active involvement in our union, but signing a card does not obligate you to do anything else.

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Will I have to pay dues if I sign a UAW card?

Signing a card does not obligate you to pay dues. No UAW member will pay dues until we as graduate employees collectively bargain and negotiate a contract and put it to a vote by our membership. After a majority of the membership votes in favor of the contract, then membership dues amount to 1.5% of your gross monthly salary. The amount of dues will be offset by the gains of the contract - no one will vote in favor of a contract where dues would be more than the negotiated increase in salary and guaranteed raises.

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As an international graduate employee, could I face legal problems if I sign a UAW card and join the union?

International graduate employees have the same rights as U.S. citizens to join and participate in unions. It is illegal for an employer to punish an employee for their union activity. In the many years that the UAW has represented international graduate employees at campuses across the country, no one has reported any complications in their status from unionizing. International members have been integral in the UAW's leadership since its inception and continue to play an active role in our union.

The right to collective bargaining is an internationally recognized right. In 2007, the International Labor Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations, specifically recognized the right of graduate employees at private universities to unionize. In fact, the ILO condemned NYU's refusal to recognize our union - UAW - as a violation of our internationally recognized rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

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Do I need permission from my professor/P.I. to join the UAW?

No. The right to collective bargaining is an individual right. Choosing to join a union is an individual decision and one that you must make on your own. Your professor/P.I. cannnot make that decision for you. The UAW would represent you and negotiate on your behalf with your employer, the NYU/Poly administration, over the terms and conditions of your employment -- not your professor/P.I. The NYU/Poly administration has the ultimate authority to set the terms and conditions of graduate employment. With a contract, both graduate employees and the NYU administration would then each know what to expect from the other - a union contract makes our workplace more secure.

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Will my professor/P.I. know I've signed a card?

Signing a card is a private, individual decision and your signature will be kept confidential. It will not be made public without your consent.

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I get paid from a grant/by my professor or P.I. How could a union contract help me?

A union contract would clarify the working relationship between you, the graduate employee, and your employer, the NYU/Poly administration. A grant or other funding that your lab or P.I. might secure is still ultimately administered by NYU/Poly, which retains the legal designation as your employer. While many grants establish pay rates for graduate employees engaged in research, these amounts are minimum guarantees that universities can exceed. Contracts for graduate employees at the University of Washington, for example, negotiated higher pay for research assistants on grants. A union contract would not only secure your rate of pay for the duration of the contract, it could also guarantee raises, sick leave, stable healthcare and other benefits that would improve your overall employment package.

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Does joining a union mean that I can be forced to strike?

No. A strike as a union strategy can only be called after the membership votes and a 2/3 majority authorizes the strike as an action. Even if the membership voted to strike, no one would force you to do so. It would still be your individual choice.

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