What is a union?
A union is an organized group of workers joining together to advocate for workers’ needs and create a more democratic workplace through collective action. GW GSU is an organization of student workers at GWU using claiming our right to collectively bargain to help make GW a better place.
Why are graduate students at GW forming a union?
GW graduate workers are a crucial part of the university and make considerable contributions through our teaching, grant-winning research, grading and administrative work. That’s why we are coming together for a voice; when it concerns our working conditions and the priorities of GW as an institution, we want to be fairly recognized for these contributions. A recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board recognized that graduate student workers are employees of the university and therefore have the right to collectively bargain. Through collective bargaining, we have the opportunity to work towards institutional transparency, consistent employment practices, clear expectations, fair workloads, living wages, and sufficient benefits that will enable us to do our work to the best of our abilities and thus promote a high-caliber and robust learning environment on our campus.
How could a union contract/union representation benefit me and my fellow graduate workers?
Right now, the university administration makes decisions unilaterally that affect us. By organizing a union, we can collectively bargain with the university as equals. This puts us in a better place to negotiate improved working conditions, higher stipends, better access to services and support, increased benefits, and a platform from which to address our concerns. Any issue having to do with our terms and conditions of employment can be negotiated. Also, by forming a union with SEIU Local 500 we will be joining a national movement with faculty and graduate workers to improve the way academic work is viewed and treated. Graduate students at Duke, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt Universities, among others are also in the process of organizing unions with SEIU.
How does a union work?
The graduate workers at GW are the union! With a union, graduate assistants would set the agenda in terms of what is in our union contract and how we proceed with our ongoing relationship with GW. Our contracts will be negotiated by a democratically appointed team of GW graduate workers alongside experienced negotiators from SEIU Local 500, but the full GW GSU membership would have a say in our priorities and in ratifying the final contract. We will also begin to take part in SEIU Local 500 union groups and activities, including the Washington, DC metro-strategy council of the SEIU Local 500’s Coalition of Academic Labor, a group made of faculty from GW, AU, Georgetown, Howard, UDC, and Trinity-Washington, as well as graduate leaders from across the city.
What is the process to form a union? Will forming a union be divisive?
The process of forming a union is a democratic one, administered by the National Labor Relations Board. Step one is for a majority group graduate workers to sign a union card. The union cards will then be filed by grad workers at GW as a petition with the NLRB. This will demonstrate that GW workers are interested in having a union. The names on the petition are totally confidential. The NLRB then carries out a secret ballot election for GW grad workers where all eligible voters – determined jointly by GW GSU and the GWU administration – get to vote for or against representation by the union. This is a collaborative, not a divisive, process. By coming together, we endeavor to improve our working conditions and therefore the quality of education and services we can give to students – something that the majority of stakeholders should be able to get behind.
How will the GW administration respond to our organizing?
While we hope the GW administration will remain neutral and will respect our legal right to organize, we also know that it is common for employers to oppose unionization. Often, administrations might spread misinformation about the union, such as over exaggerating the cost of dues or portraying our union as an external third party trying to interfere with our relationships on campus. But the union is made up of graduate workers, and we won’t pay dues until we negotiate a new contract – a net positive.
Can GW discipline me for participating in union organizing?
It is against the law for an employer to take any action against an employee for organizing or attempting to organize a union. If are you disciplined for organizing, SEIU Local 500 will help you pursue legal action, at no cost to you. Your fellow graduate workers will also be there to support you. At other institutions that organized with SEIU Local 500, workers have found that being open and visible about union activity provides the best protection. Prominent institutions of higher education are in the public eye and do not want to be accused of targeting students for union activity.
I am an international student worker. Can I join the union?
Absolutely, all student workers are welcome. A union represents all workers, and we aim to represent the interests of international students as well as domestic students. The university cannot discipline you for supporting unionization, nor will the university have access to confidential union cards.
Is the union just for PhD students?
The union is for all graduate students who work for the university. We recognize that MA students and PhD students have different experiences and expectations from the university, but all of those who teach or do research at GW have the right to be represented by a union for graduate workers.
Will this cause friction with administration?
Graduate workers are crucial to GW. We are the teachers, research and lab assistants, the administrative assistants and perform various other supportive roles in the university. In organizing a union, the goal is to achieve a productive, collaborative relationship with the administration where we can address our concerns as a member and stake-holder of the GW community. Adjunct faculty at GW have already unionized with SEIU Local 500, and they enjoy ongoing positive problem-solving relationships with the administration.
Will I have to pay dues?
Members will not pay dues until the union is recognized and a contract is reached. Until then, thousands of workers in other universities and institutions are supporting our effort to unionize, since SEIU Local 500 is a member-run and member-funded organization. The resources needed to represent and organize workers, build a regional strategy council, and engage in higher education reform issues come from member dues. Once our union is recognized, the union dues for GW graduate workers will likely be $34-$37 a month. Dues are only paid during the months when you are working and receiving a paycheck. No dues are paid until a first union contract is ratified, and you are enjoying its protections and improvements.
What can I do to support the union?
Our strength lies in our numbers and shared interests. The first step is signing a union card, which is a commitment to your fellow graduate workers to support the process of creating a union, and also acts as a petition to the NLRB to show we are serious in forming a union. You can also help us reach out to your colleagues. Encourage them to join us, and be a part of the process to prioritize graduate worker issues on campus and to build a contract with the university that properly addresses our needs as workers at GW. Please reach out to us to find out more about the exciting organizing happening on campus now!
For more information, please contact the GW Grad Student Workers United at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here and open to all graduate workers who want to support the creation and organization of a union. We hope to hear from you!