Frequently Asked Questions
The goal of GSOC-UAW is to re-establish collective bargaining with NYU and regain the democratic voice we deserve to improve our working lives.
- What is collective bargaining?
- How can we benefit from collective bargaining?
- What kinds of benefits did we get with our first contract?
- What happens after we vote to establish our Union?
- What are the rights of international students to participate in the union?
- Why is a grievance procedure important and how does it work under a typical Union contract?
- How much are membership dues and when do we start paying?
- Should I talk to my adviser about what they think about the union?
- Will we have to strike again?
- My stipend is a part of my fellowship. Is that negotiable?
- What is negotiable?
Questions About the Agreement
- What is the difference between establishing our Union through the agreement with NYU instead of through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)?
- Is NYU obligated to bargain with us? How can the Union make NYU agree to anything?
- Who is covered by the agreement?
- What is the deal with RAs in the sciences and engineering?
Questions About the Voting Process
- I’m not going to be in New York City during the election. Can I vote by proxy?
- I am working in a position covered by the agreement, but I am not on the voter eligibility list. What do I do?
- My department says I am an adjunct? Am I eligible to vote?
Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, we will elect representatives to negotiate with NYU and put the terms of our employment into a binding contract. With collective bargaining, graduate employee unions can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.
Without collective bargaining, NYU has unilateral power to change our conditions. For example, they made cuts to our health benefits in Fall 2012. If our benefits were secured in a Union contract through collective bargaining, NYU could not make such changes without our agreement.
Without collective bargaining, NYU has unilateral power to change our conditions. For example, they made cuts to our health benefits in Fall 2012. With collective bargaining, the university would have to negotiate any changes to our working conditions and benefits with us. They could not make unilateral changes.
There are recognized graduate employee unions at more than 60 campuses nationwide, including the University of Massachusetts, SUNY, Rutgers University, the University of California, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan.
Collective bargaining gives us the power to negotiate with NYU and allows us to decide democratically what issues to prioritize in these negotiations.
As an example, when we had collective bargaining in 2002, GSOC-UAW negotiated dramatic improvements to graduate employee conditions: a 38% increase to minimum stipends, the establishment of fully-paid health insurance premiums, workload protections, appointment security provisions, and numerous other important rights. We have maintained some of the economic gains we won in that first contract, even after Bush administration policies allowed NYU to stop negotiating with our Union, but without real collective bargaining the administration remains free to make unilateral changes like the Fall 2012 cuts to our health benefits.
Other graduate employee unions across the US and Canada have also successfully improved stipends, healthcare and other benefits, workload and job safety protections and other important rights. For example, unionized graduate employees at the University of California (represented by UAW, Local 2865) have negotiated a contract that provides:
- Secure job appointments
- Improved childcare subsidies
- Paid family leave
- Full tuition remissions
- Health benefits, including dental and vision insurance
- Workload protections
- Strong protections against sexual harassment and discrimination
Our union, GSOC-UAW, negotiated its first contract with the NYU administration in January 2002. We won for the first time many of the benefits that grad employees at NYU continue to enjoy today, but also many benefits that NYU has since rescinded.
- Prior to the union campaign, stipends were $10,000 per year for most students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Stipends in the School of the Arts and the School of Education were as low as $5,100. In response to our organizing drive, the NYU administration raised stipends in GSAS to $13,000.
- Many graduate assistants did not have tuition waivers or fee waivers.
- Graduate employees at NYU paid for our own health care. In response to the union campaign, NYU began to pay a portion of healthcare costs for some graduate employees.
- No compensation was provided for teaching-related duties or other required duties performed prior to the start of a semester.
- No guaranteed benefits.
- Minimum salaries increased by at least 38% over the four years of the contract. For most NYU graduate employees, the contract provided for a raise to $15,000 retroactive to the beginning of the 2001-2002 academic year, with increases up to a minimum of $18,000 for the 2004-2005 academic year. Graduate employees at NYU already earning above the minimum received a 3.5% raise in each of the first 3 years of the contract and a 4% raise in the final year.
- All graduate employees were guaranteed tuition and fee waivers (including standard tuition charges, maintenance of matriculation, sports center membership, activities fees, and registration).
- NYU agreed to cover 100% of the cost of healthcare coverage for all graduate employees. Outpatient benefits were improved and enhanced beginning in the third year of the contract.
- Additional compensation was guaranteed for all employees who work more than an average of 20 hours per week. Class time, preparation, grading, proctoring, training, and advising all count towards total hours worked.
- The childcare fund for graduate students, which NYU initially created in response to GSOC’s campaign, was increased by 30% to $110,000.
- Under the contract, letters of appointment constituted guarantees of employment. If a course or section was cancelled, the university was obligated to provide either an alternative appointment or compensation.
- Guaranteed reasonable access to workspace, telephones, photocopying and voicemail.
- Pre-semester work training paid at $100/day.
- Any pre-existing benefits not specifically written into the contract were guaranteed to continue.
When a majority voting in our election vote “yes,” NYU will recognize GSOC/UAW and SET/UAW as our Union. We will then elect a bargaining committee of our peers. The elected bargaining committee will use bargaining surveys we fill out, as well as other information, to develop initial bargaining demands that we will vote to approve and that will guide negotiations with NYU. Once our bargaining committee reaches a “tentative agreement” with NYU, we will vote on whether to ratify that agreement as our first contract. Then we will elect leaders for our Local Union.
International students have the same legal right to join a union as US citizens. The visa requirement that international students may only accept employment associated with the university they attend in no way compromises their right to belong to a union that represents them in the workplace. No graduate employee union has reported any complications among their members arising from the dual status of being both an international student and a unionized employee.
Participation in political activities such as picketing, rallies, leafleting, and demonstrations, is protected under the Constitution for those residing in the US on international student visas, just as it is for US citizens.
Union contracts typically include a grievance procedure, which is simply a process agreed to by the Union and the employer as part of the contract that allows employees to enforce the rights, pay and benefits negotiated in the contract. Though grievances are typically resolved quickly and informally, most contracts (including the original GSOC/UAW contract with NYU) allow for unresolved grievances to be taken to a neutral arbitrator so that the University does not get to decide unilaterally whether they violated the terms of the contract.
As an example of how a fair and effective grievance procedure can work, you can check out highlights of how graduate employees at the University of Washington have successfully enforced their rights under the Union contract on issues ranging from pregnancy discrimination and tuition/fee waivers to being paid properly and health and safety issues.
Dues are important to any union because they provide the financial resources necessary to equalize power with the employer. In the UAW we have democratic control over when we start paying membership dues because no one will pay any dues until after we successfully negotiate a contract and democratically approve that contract. After we vote to approve our first contract, union members will pay just 1.5% of our gross salary in dues during semesters when we have jobs covered under the contract.
Dues support a variety of resources that will give us the clout to represent our members. These include educational, legal, negotiating, and other membership services. Dues also contribute to organizing new groups of workers, the strike fund, and political action. In fact, right now, the dues of other UAW members are funding our own organizing campaign.
One of the basic foundations of our agreement with NYU is that the decision to support the Union, or not, is ours as graduate employees. The NYU administration has committed in our agreement to remain neutral on the question of unionization and refrain from efforts to influence how we vote. You have no obligation to discuss this matter with your adviser. Moreover, we have agreed with NYU not bargain over “academic matters” and so your academic relationship with your adviser is outside the scope of any bargaining relationship we will have with NYU.
In the UAW, decisions about strikes are made democratically. If 2/3 of those participating in a strike authorization vote say yes, the Union would then be empowered to call a strike. Usually, employees only consider a strike after many other efforts have failed.
Fortunately, our agreement with NYU means we should not have to strike in order to get into bargaining since they have already committed to bargain in good faith upon a majority vote by graduate employees for the Union. As far as a strike during bargaining, which is another situation where workers sometimes decide to strike, 98% of contracts get negotiated without strikes.
We will not be able to bargain over someone’s stipend as a MacCracken Fellow who is not working as a TA, GA or RA. However, when we negotiated our first contract with NYU, we increased the minimum stipend rate by 38% for those working in exchange for their stipend; NYU then passed on the increase to all graduate students and RAs regardless of whether they were working and covered by the contract.
In bargaining, we will be able to negotiate over rates of pay, hours of work and other terms and conditions of employment for those positions in the bargaining unit.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE AGREEMENT
What is the difference between establishing our Union through the agreement with NYU instead of through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)?
One of the main reasons more than 125 graduate employees and activists from across NYU and NYU-Poly endorsed the agreement is because, in several ways, it is stronger than the process of establishing the Union through the NLRB.
- Our agreement has an expedited process for resolving any pre-election or bargaining disputes that might arise, whereas the NLRB often takes time to resolve such disputes.
- Our agreement includes a strong commitment by NYU to neutrality on graduate employees’ choice about unionization, whereas the NLRB process has weak rules regarding employer neutrality.
- Our agreement includes an agreed-on neutral arbitrator to resolve any disputes rather than the NLRB, which means that if a future US President appoints anti-labor NLRB members, we will not have to look to resolve our disputes with NYU.
- Our agreement expands the number of those eligible to be represented by the Union beyond those who were covered by the first contract, including 6th and 7th year PhD students who are teaching, which the NLRB may or may not have done.
Our agreement does also mean – because we are withdrawing our NLRB petitions – that the NLRB will not use our case to overturn the 2004 Brown University decision and re-establish the legal right to collective bargaining for graduate employees at private universities. However, there is no guarantee that the NLRB will rule on our case any time in the near future. Furthermore, the facts of the case could have led to a decision that excluded significant groups of graduate employees who are covered under our agreement (e.g. 6th and 7th year TAs, TAs in stand-alone courses, RAs as a whole, Masters students hired as TAs). For all of these reasons, graduate employees across campus have decided the agreement with NYU is the best step forward.
Under our agreement, NYU is obligated to follow the principles of the NLRB, and they have already agreed to bargain in good faith for a contract upon confirmation of a majority vote by graduate employees for the Union. As far as getting NYU to agree to anything in particular in bargaining, that will be no different than under the NLRB process – ultimately, what we end up winning in our first contract will depend on how much power we bring to the negotiations, which starts with having a decisive Yes vote in the election.
The agreement defines the “bargaining unit” (the group eligible to be represented by the Union) as follows: “All graduate students who teach classes, including those enrolled in Ph.D. programs and those enrolled in Master’s degree programs; graduate assistants; research assistants, who are employed by the Employer. Excluding all other employees, graduate employees enrolled in Ph.D. programs beyond the 7th year who are classified as adjuncts, graders and tutors, graduate assistants at the School of Medicine, candidates for the Master of Business Administration degree in the University’s Stern School of Business, research assistants at Polytechnic Institute, research assistants in the biology, chemistry, neural science, physics, mathematics, computer science, and psychology departments, and guards and supervisors as defined in the National Labor Relations Act.”
While we have not resolved our differences with NYU regarding collective bargaining rights for this group of RAs, we also have not agreed to refrain from efforts to represent RAs in collective bargaining as NYU insisted in previous efforts to reach an overall agreement. We are committed to continue working with RAs who wish to be represented in collective bargaining.
NYU believes that, in cases where RAs are being paid to do research that will become part of their dissertation, collective bargaining will interfere with mentoring relationships between faculty and graduate students. We disagree and, in fact, RAs in the hard sciences have engaged in collective bargaining at the University of Washington and University of Massachusetts for more many years with no evidence of any negative effect on mentoring relationships.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE VOTING PROCESS
There is no provision for voting absentee or by proxy.
I am working in a position covered by the agreement, but I am not on the voter eligibility list. What do I do?
If you believe you should be on the eligibility list, contact the Union immediately and we will attempt to address the problem. Ultimately, if we cannot resolve the situation, you should go to the polls and vote. If you are not on the list, you will cast a “challenged” ballot. If challenged ballots are determinative of the outcome, they will be resolved at the time of the vote count.
Masters and PhD students who teach classes, except those who are beyond their 7th year in a PhD program, are eligible for union representation under our agreement and are thus eligible voters.
As of 2009, NYU began classifying most graduate student teachers as adjuncts. However, a majority of TAs consistently asserted a desire to be represented by GSOC/UAW along with other graduate employees, instead of by the adjunct union. The adjunct union has respected that choice; and, now, so has NYU. If you have any questions about your status, please call the Union at (212) 529-2580 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.