NUGW is engaged in an active campaign for better working conditions for all graduate workers. Our platform as graduate workers focuses on five core needs. In spring 2022, in collaboration with other graduate groups on the Chicago and Evanston campuses, NUGW surveyed graduate workers about their needs. Almost 2000 graduate workers responded to the survey (out of around 3400 graduate workers at Northwestern). This platform reflects the top needs reported on the NU Graduate Needs Survey. This platform is a starting point for our priorities, but won't limit us when it comes to negotiating a contract.
Competitive Pay through Graduation Day
Northwestern's stipend has failed to keep up with 2022's inflation rates, so every graduate worker here has taken an effective pay cut this year. Additionally, Northwestern's peer institutions (who have legally recognized graduate worker unions) have largely outpaced the stipend growth rate with their rates at:
- Columbia stipend -- $45,320
- Princeton stipend -- $40,000
- Harvard stipend -- $42,660
Northwestern has the financial resources to match these raises, as demonstrated in our financial report.
Given the recent pandemic-induced inflation and degree delays NUGW will demand:
- Raise base stipend for all grad workers, yearly raises based on cost of living
- End the activity fee, free opt-in UPass for all campus members
- Stable funding for Year 6 and beyond
NU-SHIP deductibles, copays, and out-of-pocket maximums have consistently gone up over the past several years, with OOPM increasing from $1300 to $2500 since 2017. Similarly, premiums have increased from $3856 to $4698 since 2018, which has a significant impact on graduate workers with dependents, as well as disabled and chronically ill graduate workers. In fact, the cost to cover the premium for one dependent takes up ~17% of a graduate worker’s take-home pay.
Optional dental and vision coverage has not been included in NU-SHIP, and, coupled with NU's slow stipend growth, grad workers are left to pay out-of-pocket for essential healthcare services, like vision and dental care.
To meet our healthcare needs, NUGW demands comprehensive health care that includes:
- Vision insurance and dental insurance included in NU-SHIP at no extra cost
- Insurance for dependents included in NU-SHIP at no extra cost
- No lapse in coverage during medical leave
Support for International Students
Of the around 3400 PhD students at Northwestern, 37% are international students and a significant portion of current NUGW members are international students, including several of our leaders. International students are a central part of the Northwestern graduate community and tend to be more dependent on university work opportunities and more financially precarious. Additionally, international students often face these challenges with a limited amount of support from their research advisors and working groups. Demands that would improve conditions for international students are core to NUGW’s work
International student members of NUGW demand:
- Legal help for immigration and visa processing
- Tax info sessions and referrals available in multiple languages
- Equal work opportunities and OPT fee subsidies
Professional Standards in Labs & Classrooms
Graduate workers receive a collage of different benefits based on their subfield, department, and research group.
This system makes it hard to nail down the actual benefits a worker should be receiving, and also opens up uneven compensation for similar labor performed on top of standard expectations across departments. Similarly, the actual implementation of accessibility accommodations and workplace injury practices is left up to individual departments and work leads, with an unclear path for reporting failures to comply with accommodations.
Through a collectively bargained contract, NUGW will push for:
- Guaranteed minimum time off and paid sick days
- Extra pay for extra work outside of standard responsibilities, including lab safety designate work or heavy teaching loads
- Transparent and easy-to-understand coverage for workplace injuries, and accommodations for disabled and chronically ill graduate workers
Power & Protection in Our Workplace
Graduate workers deserve safety and comfort in their work environments, as well as clear expectations as to how people should operate within these environments. Safety is necessarily predicated on effective accountability procedures in the event of workplace abuse and strong adherence to a set of shared rules.
To ensure workplace safety and gain set clear workplace expectations, NUGW will demand:
- Independent processes for addressing workplace abuse, harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation
- Work conditions negotiated collectively & transparently among graduate workers, faculty, & administration
- Protection from retaliation for workers who report scientific misconduct