Crest of NUGW with the words "Northwestern University Graduate Workers" surrounding an icon of an open book with a lightbulb above it.

Yes, Unionization is Your Right

All graduate workers at Northwestern (including international students) have the full right to organize to form a union and advocate for better working conditions. Any threats from university faculty or administration to the contrary are illegal and can be investigated and prosecuted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Following the 2016 Columbia decision by the NLRB, most graduate workers and faculty at both private and public universities have the legal right to join or support a union and to engage in collective bargaining. The NLRB now requires most employers to post a notice advising employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Under the NLRA, workers have the right to:

  • Read, distribute, and discuss union literature (as long as you do this in non-work areas during non-work times.
  • Wear union buttons, T-shirts, stickers, hats, or other items on the job at most worksites.
  • Sign a card asking your employer to recognize and bargain with the union.
  • Sign petitions or file grievances related to wages, hours, working conditions, and other job issues.
  • Ask other employees to support the union, to sign union cards or petitions, or to file grievances

Here’s what an employer legally CANNOT do under the NLRA:

  • Threaten employees with loss of jobs or benefits if they join or vote for a union or engage in protected concerted activity.
  • Threaten to eliminate a program or department if employees select a union to represent them.
  • Question employees about their union sympathies or activities in circumstances that tend to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights under the act.
  • Promise benefits to employees to discourage their union support.
  • Transfer, lay off, terminate, or assign employees more difficult work tasks because they engaged in union or protected concerted activity.

Employers routinely mount workplace efforts to prevent workers from forming unions, legally and illegally. If you think your right to a voice on the job has been violated, you can get help filing charges with the NLRB from NUGW. Charges must be filed within six months of the alleged illegal conduct. The NLRB can order employers to stop interfering with employee rights and to provide back pay or reverse any action against workers for their union activity.