In just one month, a supermajority of over 2000 graduate workers across all departments and schools at Northwestern signed their union cards and made it clear that YES we want a graduate student union. Now, we are standing together as we prepare to vote YES when the union election day comes. We’ll soon have more details on exactly when and where you can vote, but for now you can keep this movement strong by taking 2 minutes to pledge to VOTE YES on election day.
Across the country, universities have been raising their graduate stipends–most as a result of graduate unionization. Brown, Harvard, Columbia, NYU–all of these universities currently pay their graduate workers over $40,000 a year. A $40,000 annual salary barely meets the living wage in Cook County for a single adult, let alone for those of us who have children, who are paying off student loans or healthcare debt, or who send money back to our families to make ends meet.
In spring 2022 you may have filled out the Graduate Needs Survey, a collaboration between NUGW and other graduate organizations across campus. On that survey, we asked to rate what your top needs were as graduate students. Almost 2,000 graduate workers responded to that survey and 86% said that annual pay increases that meet the cost of living is a high priority for them.
While the university proudly tells us that it has increased our stipends over the years, our wallets are being drained by inflation, higher food costs, higher housing costs, higher gas prices, and just higher costs all around. In fact, if you are a few years into your graduate degree and it feels like your stipend covers less than it used to, you’re not imagining it. The graph below shows that the Northwestern Endowment has soared while the inflation-adjusted stipend shows we’ve taken a 3.3% pay cut this year.
How does the lack of adequate, competitive pay affect graduate workers?
“At this moment in time I will be graduating as an almost 30 year old with no savings account, crippling credit card debt accumulated from trying to survive in grad school so I can eat, thousands of dollars in student loans and no retirement funds in site.”
- Hayley McMorrow, PhD Student in NUIN
“I know graduate workers who are on food stamps, who are actively deciding whether they can pay for housing this month or if they can pay for food. How can Northwestern claim to care about its graduate workers when we are struggling like this? For me, living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about paying my bills is a big burden on my mental health and well-being.”
- Rose Werth, PhD Candidate in Sociology
“There's a reason so many of us are organizing right now: Northwestern is falling behind competing institutions, especially in terms of PhD stipends. As faculty and students in many departments have observed, a lot of prospective PhD students are choosing other institutions specifically because of better stipends.”
- Jack Bandy, PhD Candidate in Technology and Social Behavior
“I’ve gotten over 10,000 dollars of credit card debt during the past two years over medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance, plus gas and student loan payments. That only leaves $150 for living expenses for the entire month (including food, clothes, etc). My medical expenses continue to climb, leading to a cycle I can’t get out of as a student. At this point, I’m considering taking a gap year to work in industry to pay off the debt.”
- Anonymous STEM PhD Student
How can a graduate union secure competitive pay and more?
Once we win the election, Northwestern and a democratically elected NUGW-UE bargaining committee of graduate workers will negotiate a contract through collective bargaining. That contract will cover graduate worker pay, benefits, and more. Through unionization:
- Columbia graduate workers won a stipend raise to $45,320 a year
- NYU graduate workers won a 5% raise, PLUS a retroactive raise and guaranteed yearly 2.75-3% increases
- Harvard graduate workers also won a retroactive raise, plus a 5% raise and 4, 3, and 3% raises in following years
Every graduate worker will get to vote on whether or not the conditions of the final contract are acceptable. Universities like to float the myth that unions could in an imaginary world negotiate lower pay, but there is no history of this happening with graduate unions and we will not accept anything but a raise in pay. Immediate stipend increases, a plan for fair stipend increases moving forward, and funding for all graduate workers through graduation day is a top priority for the vast majority of graduate workers based on the 2022 Graduate Needs Survey.
What you can do to make fair, competitive pay a reality…
Right now, the best thing you can do is pledge to VOTE YES on election day. A graduate union is our best shot to ensure not only a stipend that meets your needs but also guarantees of increases as inflation and cost of living rise in the future. It’s our way to ensure that the university provides funding options for social science and humanities students whose programs take 7 years, but only receive guaranteed funding for 5 years. We have a supermajority, and we will vote yes and win this union. We want Northwestern to have a productive partnership with us at the bargaining table, but we have to remind them that we are standing firmly together and demanding that our needs be met. The best way to do that before election day, is to sign the pledge today.
Have a question about unionization?
In future emails we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about graduate student unions and NUGW-UE. You can submit your questions via the form below. We’ll either feature your question in an upcoming email or follow-up with you directly.
Your Fellow Graduate Student Workers