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

Analyzing NU's Claims & Finances

Northwestern repeatedly makes claims about unionization and university finances which can be difficult to sort through. This page contains those greatest hits and the real, evidence-based information that you need to know.

While universities like Northwestern often fear the power of graduate worker unions, evidence shows unions make life better at universities. Northwestern also claims to not have the finances to pay you a living wage, guarantee sixth year funding, or institute other policies that would make your life better. The evidence shows otherwise.

Read on to find NUGW's yearly analysis of Northwestern's finances and their stances on unionization. 

Analysis of Northwestern University Finances

In recent bargaining sessions Northwestern admin have insisted that they can not afford to meet the demands of grad workers, taking months to give insulting counteroffers and failing to make any real movement toward an economic deal for our contract!

The university financial report shows how hollow their austerity claims are as

  • The university controls $18.5 billion in assets—more than several large cities in the US. Net wealth
    is $14.9 billion.
  • Northwestern has experienced substantial growth over the past 5 years, including a 25.0% increase
    in the endowment and a 23.6% increase in operating revenue. Both have outpaced inflation.


  • Faculty, lecturers, and grad workers’ real wages declined between 8.0% and 13.2% from FY19-22—
    much larger declines than have been observed in the broader economy over the same period.
  • Over the past decade, spending on instruction fell from 37.9% of core expenditures to 35.2%.
    Research spending fell from 28.3% to 24.4%.
  • From FY16-21, instructional spending per student declined $10,344 or 21.6% when accounting for
    inflation. At the same time, tuition for undergraduates grew by $2,990 or 5.4%.

Read our full financial report to hear just how reasonable our demands are in the context of university finances, and use the Join NUGW buttons to get regular updates on how to achieve the just treatment we have been demanding!

Previous Financial Reports

You can also access previous financial reports from NUGW:

Why Northwestern lies about unionization

Northwestern has faced several unionization efforts in the last decade including from non-tenure faculty, football players, and our own graduate student unionization effort. In the face of these groups Northwestern administration has repeatedly made speculative and unverifiable claims to disincentivize participation in the union.

In response to this expected opposition, this page includes a compiled list of Northwestern's public claims about unionization in general, as well as graduate worker unions specifically, and a list of counterarguments against the University's claims.

What Northwestern Claims

The Facts

"Stipend increases and funding packages negotiated by a union may not compare favorably to those granted by Northwestern.
Standardization of funding agreements and stipend amounts may limit current flexibility"

Source: Northwestern's "union basics" flyer for graduate students

A union contract sets floors, not ceilings, on stipends and benefits. The data across industries shows that those floors are higher on average for unionized workers than non-unionized, including graduate students.

Many contracts include a “maintenance of benefits” clause which guarantees that workers will not earn less than they did prior to having a contract. This means that you will receive improved pay and benefits compared to what you were used to, even if you are now working under a contract. And, if your department or funding source is able to provide extra support, you will continue to collect the additional pay and benefits.

"Health insurance options negotiated by a union may not be an improvement over Northwestern's existing commitments to students."

Source: Northwestern's "union basics" flyer for graduate students

NU-SHIP currently fails to meet the needs of graduate student-workers, especially by excluding dental and vision insurance. A collective bargaining contract would set a floor to the quality of our benefits and prevent them from being taken away. Therefore, the quality of insurance would only improve over what Northwestern voluntarily offers us.

If Northwestern is dedicated to delivering quality health insurance to graduate workers then they will enter negotiations with such a proposal. We will then negotiate to fix areas where NU-SHIP currently fails to meet our needs, such as the lack of dental insurance, lack of vision insurance, and the prescription medicine price hikes seen in Spring 2020.

"Collective bargaining may lead to standardization of schedules and hours" in a way that reduces graduate worker's schedule flexibility.

Source: Northwestern's "union basics" flyer for graduate students

Our platform calls for power and protection in the workplace, especially protection from exploitation and harsh workloads. A contract will prevent graduate workers from working excessive hours, whether in doing research for their advisor or TAing for another faculty member.

A contract will never restrict flexibility, and workers will maintain the ability to work with their advisor and shift work to a different time or prioritize different tasks. All schedule flexibility can still be pursued freely at the discretion of the worker.

Union "Issues and priorities subject to collective bargaining may not ultimately align with those considered most important to Northwestern graduate students"

Source: Northwestern's "union basics" flyer for graduate students

NUGW is a democratic and open organization, so its priorities and focus are directly tied to the most pertinent concerns of its members. Thus, the most important issues facing graduate workers necessarily become the issues most concerning to the union.

"A union will require students to pay dues for their representation; 2% of the total stipend is considered standard"

Source: Northwestern's "union basics" flyer for graduate students

Unions do require dues to conduct effective negotiations and cover operating costs. NUGW is mindful of potential difficulties paying dues, so a $0 dues option is currently available on the membership sign-up page.

These dues allow for sufficient organizing and bargaining power to gain raises larger than the dues amount, and all members can vote down any contracts that do not include sufficient raises.

"Eligible graduate students include only those serving as teaching or research assistants."

Source: Northwestern's "Election Process" flyer

The 2016 NLRB Colombia states "Thus, we hold today that student assistants who have a common-law employment relationship with their university are statutory employees under the Act. We will apply that standard to student assistants, including assistants engaged in research funded by external grants".

Therefore, Northwestern's claim is false, and all graduate workers (regardless of funding source) are eligible for union representation in accordance with the National Labor Relations Act.

"Should you choose to vote for the union, and the union is indeed elected and certified, this union will become your exclusive representative on wages, benefits, and other working conditions, and cannot be voted out for at least one year. After a year, a union can only be removed through a lengthy decertification process that requires another election."

Source: Northwestern's "Election Process" flyer

NUGW is a democratic and open organization, so any dissatisfaction with any union activities can be brought up freely. To contrast the situation presented in the flyer, right now we have no direct representative acting on our behalf in wage and benefit negotiations, and if we are consistently dissatisfied with any of these negotiations we have no recourse.

This union is a collaborative endeavor and it is essential that concerns and complaints are heard, but the effort you put into voicing those concerns is rewarded with true representation for your needs.

"In 2012, TGS Dean McBride reinstituted the student dental plan after learning it was discontinued without proper consultation."

Source: Northwestern's "TGS Support" flyer

While re-instituting the dental plan is commendable, notice that the Dean had to "learn it was discontinued without proper consultation." This instance highlights the precariousness of our benefits when they are not protected by a collective bargaining contract. Disconnected administrators can remove benefits with no input from students, and we have to hope for a sympathetic audience to override that decision. Meanwhile graduate workers still need those benefits while waiting for Northwestern to reinstate them.

Alex Barbour, a northwestern attorney, claimed "student-athletes are first, foremost and always students as opposed to employees" despite the student-athletes saying they spend "40-50 hours per week on football related activities."

Source: "Colter begins testimony at second NLRB hearing" in Northwestern football unionization articles

This quote, from 2014, highlights the longstanding anti-union and anti-worker positions that Northwestern has opted to take. Regardless of how much work their workers do they will not relent with claims that all the effort is nothing more than "educational".

We have the benefit of an NLRB ruling that clearly defines our position as employees, but Northwestern's anti-union stance will persist.