Q: What is NUGW?
A: Northwestern University Graduate Workers (NUGW) is a group of Northwestern graduate students committed to unionization. Participation in NUGW is open to all current Northwestern graduate students. To get involved, and for more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Q: How is this organization different from GLAC and/or other graduate student government organizations?
A: Unlike GLAC or other graduate student organization, NUGW is not funded by the university.
Q: What is a union?
A: A union is an organized group of workers who have joined together to collectively address their working conditions.
Q: What do unions do?
A: Unions can voice and represent workers, their grievances, and opinions. Unions give graduate students a collective voice and representation in how the university operates, as well as take part in the shaping of future academic work. Unions work to collectively meet and negotiate with employers over any issues that affect working conditions, such as wages, benefits, and working conditions often taking the form of a contract.
Q: What is a union contract or a Collective Bargaining Agreement?
A: It is a legal document containing provisions related to workers’ rights and benefits.
Q: Who decides what goes into a graduate student union contract?
A: Graduate students do! The scope of contract negotiations are decided by the bargaining unit. The bargaining unit is the group covered within the contract negotiations. This can include all Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, and Graduate Assistant positions. An elected Bargaining Committee / Organizing Committee, once a union is certified, will circulate surveys to determine the goals the members of the union want. These goals will then be ratified by a vote of union members.
Q: Can graduate students form and join a union?
A: Yes! National Labor Relations Board’s Columbia decision (August 23, 2016) recognizes student assistants (graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants and research assistants) as statutory employees. This means that we are entitled to legal protections under the National Labor Relations Act.
You have a legal right to:
Join a union.
Attend a union meeting on your own time.
Talk to a union organizer.
Declare yourself a union supporter.
Assist in forming a union.
Employers are forbidden by law to engage in certain conduct. Your employer may NOT legally:
Threaten you with discharge or punishment if you engage in union activity.
Threaten to shut down business if workers form a union.
Prevent you from soliciting members during non-working hours.
Question you about union matters, union meetings, or union supporters.
Ask how you or other workers intend to vote in an election.
Ask whether you belong to a union or have signed up to join a union.
Transfer or assign you to a less desirable work assignment because of your union activity.
Threaten to terminate your benefits because you unionize.
Threaten a layoff or loss of jobs in retaliation for voting for a union.
Q: Can international students participate in the union?
A: Yes! Anyone employed in the United States has the same unionization rights as citizens regardless of visa status. Visa requirements do not compromise your right to join a union, and no graduate employee union has reported any complications among the more than 60 unions across university campuses in the US.
Q: What is an authorization card?
A: In order for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) the conduct an election on unionization, the union must file a petition showing interest from a minimum of 30% of the employees in the group that the union seeks to represent. Typically this is evidenced by the use of signed authorization cards that demonstrate support for unionization and the union supported by the signing worker. The cards must signed and dated within one year of when the union files its petition to be valid. If a worker subsequently signs a card for another union the NLRB will not count the card in support of either union. If you want to have your card returned, you may contact the union you signed with.
Q: Will I have to join the union?
A: No, no one can be required to join the union. However, in most states, unions are legally obligated to enforce contracts for all workers in the bargaining unit, members as well as non-members.
Q: Will I have to pay union dues?
A: It depends. This will be subject to bargaining, but usually all workers in the bargaining unit are required to pays dues or some sort of agency fee, after we approve our first contract. They would only be paid while you are working in a positions covered by the union (i.e. not on fellowship). These dues help to pay for staff, experts, and other resources that benefit the union.
Q: Is unionization through an NLRB vote our only option?
A: No. If we can show a majority in support of unionization, the university can voluntarily recognize the union, without having to go through an NLRB process. Without a union, Northwestern may continue to negotiate contracts individually and at will, with no guarantees to anyone.
Q: Why do I need a union? Why change things as they are, especially if the University continually offers more and more benefits?
A: Because there is no contract, the administration can change their policies at any time without graduate student consultation, or recourse. With a union, a negotiated contract protects guaranteed benefits.
Q: Won’t the university have to cut funding elsewhere to for increased benefits for graduate students?
A: There has been no record of cuts being made at any of the many universities that have unions as a result of unionization. During collective bargaining, we will be able to see how university finances are budgeted, including their targeted $12 billion endowment this year, and help decide how Northwestern prioritizes its budget.
Q: Will a union mean all departments must follow the same cookie-cutter policies?
A: Our negotiated contract can be as detailed as much or little we want it to be. All members of a bargaining unit do not have to have the same contract terms.
Q: How will unionization affect my relationship with faculty?
A: To date there has been no real evidence of unionization have a negative impact on advisor-advisee relationships. There is a peer-reviewed study on such effects across five academic disciplines across eight public U.S. universities, finding that:
Unionization does not have the presumed negative effects on student outcomes, and in some cases has a positive effect. Union-represented graduate employees report higher levels of personal and professional support, unionized graduate student employees fare better on pay, and unionized and non-unionized students report similar perceptions on academic freedom.
This would also help tenured faculty in terms of relieving their duties relating to Teaching Assignments or having to represent and voice student concerns in addition to their own duties. Unions and union representation are primarily concerned with labor relations. What defines departmental and university policies regarding educational requirements and responsibility can be more explicitly defined in union contracts. We would also stand in solidarity with non-tenured faculty who may be unionized.