Graduate Workers

Graduate Workers Are Uniting: Question and Answers

We work hard, day and night. But now that we have a right to form a union, we owe it to ourselves to consider the advantages of forming a union with SEIU. Startign a campaign with SEIU means uniting with nearly 2 million SEIU members, including 120,000 who work in higher ed.

Why are graduate employees organizing across the country?

Because we keep our universities going by teaching and conducting research, but have little say over the working conditions that affect our studies and our futures. Grad student assistants want to have a stronger, more unified voice on campus. And like many non-tenure-track faculty across the country we want to improve our pay, benefits and workload, which can be difficult to address with our supervisors directly. Coming together to form a union is a great way to create more equitable employment conditions. This is the ultimate goal of a grad student worker union or organization, and this new stability inevitably enhances the quality of our academic lives and our students’ educational experiences. The saying that goes for faculty goes doubly for grad student employees: Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

Are graduate workers able to form a union?

Graduate student employees at many public universities have formed unions. It is time that we unite as well. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)–the federal body that governs collective bargaining in the private sector — recently decided that graduate student assistants have collective bargaining rights. Now graduate assistants at Duke, Northwestern, Saint Louis University, American University and other major universities are organizing with SEIU. Nothing can stop us when we stand together. We want to build power for the future by standing together now.

Fill out this form to let us know you are interested in fighting for a voice for graduate student workers and we’ll connect you with others in your area or school.

Are graduate students really workers?

We are students and workers at the same time. When we teach undergraduates, conduct research, support faculty, and advise thesis writers, we perform the revenue-generating labor that makes our universities work. In order to be paid, we must perform services under terms dictated by our advisors, departments, and university administrators We believe that our position qualifies us as employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and gives us the right to bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of our employment.

How does a union work?

Having a union empowers people to make positive changes where they work. Having a union does not guarantee any particular improvement or benefit, but a union is the tool that millions of people, including tens of thousands of grad student employees, use to make improvements where they work. Through the power of collective bargaining, instructors, faculty and graduate student assistants across the country have won a voice at the table and have won the right to negotiate with their college and university administrations.

So say we form a union. Who will be in charge?

This will be our union. Members will elect officers, and approval of contracts will be decided by a majority vote, but all members can help shape a union through bargaining surveys, serving on committees, and electing officers. All of the proposals for a contract come from us. And during the process of achieving a contract with the school, graduate student workers will decide when the proposed contract is good enough to be ratified by a majority vote.

How much will dues be?

Forming a union allows us to pool their resources and make a bigger difference on campus. No one pays dues until we have: 1) formed a union; 2) negotiated the first contract, and 3) voted as a group to approve the contract and be paid for your work on campus. In other words, graduate student assistants will not pay any money into the union before they know exactly what gains they’ve achieved through collective bargaining.

What is Graduate Workers Forward/Faculty Forward? SEIU?

Since its start in 2013, graduate students have played an instrumental role as allies in the Faculty Forward movement. Through Faculty Forward, over 13,000 faculty have formed unions and joined allies to challenge the status quo in higher education around working conditions, student debt, and access to higher education.
Faculty Forward is a project of the Service Employees International Union, (SEIU), which represents 120,000 members in public and private higher education in the United States—40,000 of which are college and university faculty. Overall, SEIU is home to roughly 2 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

How can I join the movement?

By reading this, you are already on the way! A next step to build support for a union is to sign a union authorization form.