What will we gain by forming a union?
Who is eligible?
How do we start one?
What is SEIU?
What will our dues be?
Will we have to go on strike?
Will our contract require identical treatment for all graduate students?
Are unions businesses?
Are private universities like Emory different from public universities where unions have existed for decades?
If we unionize, will we be imposing our will on those who vote no?
How will this be paid for?
I'm worried what my professors will think if I support the union.
Will unionizing make it harder for me to get a job in academia?
How can I help?


What will we gain by forming a union?

If we vote to unionize, the administration will be required to negotiate a contract with us collectively. This gives us enormous bargaining power. Together we can demand improvements that affect all of us, like a cost of living increase for our stipends, and dental and vision coverage for our health care. If we stand up for each other’s interests, every one of us will benefit. Our full list of concerns addresses the needs of students from every department.

Perhaps most importantly, our contract will create a legally binding agreement about how we can be treated by our advisors. At present, each of us is at the whim of one or more out of hundreds of supervisors who may in individual cases be more or less benevolent, but who ultimately has broad authority and little oversight. With a union, anyone who feels that they are being treated unfairly, harassed, or discriminated against by a professor will be able to file a grievance and be represented by the union to ensure our contract is enforced.

Graduate students at public universities have had the right to unionize for decades, and have won significant improvements through collective bargaining. For example, take a look at a brief history of the University of Michigan's Graduate Employee's Organization.


Who is eligible?

Any graduate student who is receiving a stipend from the university for teaching or research is eligible to unionize. This should include all of Laney Graduate School. If anyone outside of LGS thinks they should be eligible, let us know!


How do we start one?

The most important step in this process is the signing of union authorization cards. Anyone who intends to vote in favor of unionization should sign an authorization card. Once 30% or more of our prospective bargaining unit (LGS) has signed, we can hold a vote the results of which must be recognized by the university. Should the majority of graduate students who cast their ballot vote to support unionization, SEIU can start negotiating a union contract on our behalf. Once we have a union contract, we will officially be considered a local chapter of SEIU.


What is SEIU?

The Emory Graduate Organizing Committee has decided to team up with the Service Employees International Union to organize a local chapter representing Emory graduate students. Since its founding in 1921, SEIU has become one of the largest labor unions in America with more than 2 million members and a strong presence in the South. Most of SEIU’s existing chapters represent workers in health care, public services and property services. Since the National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2016 that graduate students at private universities qualify as university employees and can therefore unionize, SEIU has worked toward organizing graduate students at Duke University, Northwestern University, Saint Louis University, Vanderbilt and Loyola University Chicago. SEIU has also been on the forefront of efforts to organize faculty through their Adjunct Action/Faculty Forward campaign


What will our dues be?

By paying dues, we contribute to the strength of our union. Annual dues are typically 1-2 percent of a union member’s salary. Dues are only asked of union members after the first union contract has been signed. The goal of the union is to negotiate higher salaries for everyone, with an income increase that exceeds the prospective union dues.


Will we have to go on strike?

Strikes are very rare. Only about 1% of contract negotiations end in strikes. There are multiple ways for us to act collectively to influence the decisions of the administration when we feel we are being treated unfairly, of which a strike is only the last resort.

It is also possible to conduct PR campaigns that focus on raising awareness on campus and in local media, to hold actions like sit-ins, and to organize partial work-stoppages such as grading strikes. If we are still unsatisfied with the administration’s response, the decision to strike remains up to us. As with all the decisions our union makes, a majority vote by our members determines if we go on strike.


Will our contract require identical treatment for all graduate students?

Not at all. It is commonplace for a collective bargaining agreement (the contract our union will negotiate with the administration) to stipulate different conditions for employees in different positions, including different salaries and different protections relevant to our different responsibilities.

We can negotiate a contract that guarantees that things all of us want (better pay, health care, and job security) while remaining sensitive to the different needs of teachers, of researchers, and of all our different departments and fields of study.


Are unions businesses?

The Laney administration has put forward the misleading idea that “unions are businesses.” Actually, unions are nonprofit organizations, much like Emory University.

SEIU has provided us with substantial resources already, in the form of both covering immediate expenses and training our organizers. Our needs will continue to grow: Emory has already hired a notorious union-busting law firm, Proskauer Rose, who we expect will try to mount a legal challenge to prevent the democratic process of our vote. SEIU will provide legal representation for us throughout this process.

Our dues will contribute to SEIU’s continued support of our union as they help us negotiate and enforce our contract. SEIU does not operate on a profit motive - keep in mind that one makes far more money by exploiting workers than by organizing them, and that each of us personally is likely to gain income and benefits as a result of unionizing.


Are private universities like Emory different from public universities where unions have existed for decades?

Not in principle. We both perform teaching and research duties, and earn significant amounts of money for the institutions employing us in the process. Graduate students at Public Universities are governed by state-level labor relations boards, which is why they have had the right to unionize longer than we have. In its decision of August 23, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board rejected the argument that any fundamental difference existed between public and private universities in this respect.

The LGS administration has said that they do not consider us employees (despite our official titles being Graduate Student-Employees) because our teaching and research is part of “education and professional development.” This argument was explicitly considered and rejected by the NLRB when it recognized us as employees. Any employee at any job gains experience and skills while working, which does not change their status as an employee.


If we unionize, will we be imposing our will on those who vote no?

All of the decisions we make collectively, including the decision to unionize, will be democratic. Of course, this means that some people will be outvoted. Nevertheless, the union will provide all of us with more of a voice in our working conditions than we have at present.
It is not the case that any of us are free to self-determine our working conditions without a union. The administration and our departments or advisors determine what we will be paid, what benefits we will receive, as well as our teaching and research obligations. If we unionize, we will be ensuring that graduate student-employees have a voice in all of these decisions. This will be beneficial for all of us; we have more in common with each other than we do with the administration.


How will this be paid for?

At present, when our departments negotiate with Emory’s administration on our behalf, the administration likes to act as though the outcome must be zero sum, and anything they give us must be compensated from our own budget. In truth, Emory has vast resources (including a $6.4 billion endowment) and a broad array of spending priorities from which resources could be reallocated.

Just to give the most obvious example, as soon as the administration learned we were organizing, they hired a “union-avoidance” law firm, Proskauer Rose, who charges as much as $1400/hour. They are pursuing a legal strategy that the administrations at Columbia, Yale, Duke, and other institutions have also undertaken, to fight a vote even taking place and delay negotiating a contract as long as possible by filing time-consuming, meritless lawsuits and appeals. Their hope is that the Trump administration will reverse the decision recognizing us as employees if they delay long enough. In addition to undermining the democratic process of our vote (the students at Duke will never know the outcome of their vote because 500 ballots were impounded on appeal), this strategy could easily cost millions of dollars in legal fees.

Obviously, if the university can summon this level of funding to fight its employees, it could also find the money to pay us a living wage and improve our benefits. It would only have to change its priorities.


I'm worried what my professors will think if I support the union.

Your decision to sign a union card, and your vote for or against a union in a general election, will be private. The only way your professors will know you support a union is if you decide to make your stance public. While some professors may not approve of their students unionizing, many do. As former graduate students, many professors support our struggle for better pay and working conditions, and many also agree that having a graduate student union advocating for grad students’ rights will make Emory University a more attractive place for grad students to attend in the future.

Many faculty have signed our Dear Colleagues Letter in support of effort to unionize. Studies have even found that unionized graduate student-employees have better relationships with faculty in comparison with grads at non-unionized peer institutions.


Will unionizing make it harder for me to get a job in academia?

Unless you decide to publicly voice your support for the union, none of your prospective employers will know whether or not you voted in favor of unionization. While college administrations by and large do not encourage graduate students to form unions, in the academic job market, most of the people deciding which new professors to hire will be professors and former graduate students like you, who may even support a union. Some prominent academic organizations have publicly voiced support of graduate student unions, including the MLA (see their 1999 resolution and Academic Collective Bargaining publication) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).


What can I do to help?

For starters, talk to the graduate students in your department, and everyone you know at Emory. Make sure they know that the union organizing effort exists, how they can benefit from it, and how they too can get involved. Encourage graduate students who support the union to sign authorization cards. And consider joining the organizing committee to get more involved in our public campaign and to help shape the future of Emory’s union! You can find information on our next meeting here.