October Union Election
1. What is the election for?
- Emory University PhD graduate students are voting whether or not to form an official labor union. There will be a single question to which you can vote “yes” or “no.” NOTE: If you have previously signed an authorization card in the past year, you still need to vote!
- This is what the sample ballot will look like:
2. When is the election? How do I vote? Where is my voting location?
- The election is October 17th-18th, 9AM-1PM and 3-7PM for in-person voting. Click here to check your eligibility and voting location.
- All individuals for mail-in voting have been contacted; if you have any additional questions do not hesitate to contact EmoryUnite! at email@example.com
- Mail-in ballots are due November 8th 2023, and all ballots will be counted November 9th, 2023.
3. What happens if I vote at a location different from my assigned location?
- Your vote will still be counted but it is important that you try to vote at your assigned location!
4. Why does the election ballot say “Workers United Southern Regional Joint Board, and not EmoryUnite!?
- One of the many reasons we chose to partner with Workers United-SEIU is because we are not a legal labor entity-a key strength of partnering with Workers United-SEIU is that we can get guidance on legal and strategic issues relating to union organizing. See below for more information on EmoryUnite!’s history of working with Workers United-SEIU.
5. What is Workers United-SEIU? Why are we working with them?
- Emory PhD workers first joined together in an effort to form a legal labor union in 2016. That group of students decided to work with Workers United-SEIU in order to get guidance on legal and strategic issues relating to union organizing. Workers United-SEIU is a labor union that works with a number of graduate worker unions across the country, many of which have recently achieved legal recognition, such as Boston University and Duke University. Workers United-SEIU has become one of the largest labor unions in America with more than 2 million members and a strong presence in the South, and have also been on the forefront of efforts to organize faculty through their Adjunct Action/Faculty Forward campaign.
- EmoryUnite!’s initial card drive ultimately had to be abandoned due to guidance from a Trump-elected National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which refused to recognize graduate workers as employees, especially at private universities. In response to that decision, EmoryUnite! members decided to shift their efforts away from legal recognition to maximizing their impact as a direct-join union, while receiving guidance from Workers United-SEIU. EmoryUnite! was able to make limited impact in this format given that a direct-join union lacks legal bargaining power, and many efforts to improve wages and working conditions were stymied or ignored by the university. The NLRB guidance was changed under the Biden administration in 2021, and we decided to re-devote our efforts to becoming a legally recognized union, with Workers United-SEIU’s help.
6. How can I support the election?
- At this stage, encouraging turnout is the single most important thing any of us can do. Send a calendar invite to one or more of your fellow PhD workers (or your whole graduate program) to vote “Yes” together! If you are not a PhD worker, encourage PhD workers you know to vote!
What Are Unions?
1. What is a union? What is EmoryUnite! and EmoryUnite!’s goals?
- In its most basic definition, a union is a group of individuals who organize together to make decisions about their working conditions. For the past 7 years EmoryUnite! has been comprised of primarily PhD graduate workers across the humanities, STEM, and social sciences.
- Our current goal is to vote for an officially recognized labor union in order to have the legal right to negotiate for better pay, benefits, and working conditions in a contract.
2. What kinds of things can an official labor union bargain for?
- We can bargain for workplace improvements ranging from stipend increases to health insurance improvements to harassment and discrimination protections. See “Platforms” for our guiding contract issues.
3. Are unions common in higher education? What have been the successes?
- Graduate worker unions have existed for years across the United States; 45,000 graduate workers have unionized in this year alone, with Duke University (another private university in the South and in a right-to-work state), recently winning their graduate union election with 88% of the vote.
- Wins have included stipend increases, reduced or eliminated student fees, 75% spouse and child health insurance coverage, and childcare and sick days.
- Of note, one study concluded that graduate unions are effective at raising stipends, even after controlling for intra-university correlation of wages.
4. What are my rights to unionize as an international student?
- All international students have a legally protected right to organize for a union, regardless of any limitations on your right to protest that may be associated with your status as an international student. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) cannot ask you if you participate in a union. In 40+ years of graduate student organizing, there have been no reported cases of international students facing issues with the law or their visa status due to participation in a union. The National Labor Relations Board makes it illegal for a university to retaliate against students for unionizing.
5. If we unionize, will we be imposing our will on those who vote no?
- Emory has and will continue to make decisions without our say. This can include reducing the years of guaranteed funding by Laney Graduate School, and changing our healthcare benefits and teaching obligations. If we unionize, we will be ensuring that graduate student-workers have a voice in all of these decisions, which we believe will benefit all of us, since we have more in common with each other than with the administration.
- We make all decisions collectively and democratically, including the decision to unionize. This means that some people will be out-voted. Nevertheless, the union will provide all of us with more of a voice in our working conditions than we have at present.
6. Are unions businesses?
- In the past, the Laney administration has put forward the misleading idea that “unions are businesses.” Unions are nonprofit organizations, much like Emory University.
7. Georgia is a “right-to-work” state, how does this affect unionization?
- Even though Georgia is a right-to-work state, Emory still must recognize the union if we win and bargain with us in good faith for a union contract.
- Even if the election results in unionization of graduate student-workers, union membership and dues are not mandatory because Georgia is a “right-to-work” state.
8. Are private universities like Emory different from public universities, where unions have existed for decades?
- Not in principle. All graduate student-workers 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 (NLRB) rejected the argument that any fundamental difference existed between public and private universities in this respect.
- Laney Graduate School administration has said in the past that they do not consider us 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.
9. What is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)?
- The National Labor Relations Board is an independent United States government agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to join together to improve their wages and working conditions. More information on their website: https://www.nlrb.gov/
Guiding Contract Issues (Platforms)
1. What are EmoryUnite!’s guiding issues?
We believe that a legally recognized union is the only pathway to guaranteeing 1) a living wage, 2) fair compensation when we work as teachers, researchers, mentors, instructors, and tutors, 3) a safe working environment, 4) comprehensive health coverage for ourselves and our dependents 5) fair and comprehensive parental accommodations, and 6) protection of a union in situations involving discrimination, harassment or any kind of unfair treatment. Some concrete examples what we could bargain for can include:
- Living Wage: with the exception of one program, Emory’s PhD stipend falls short of the living wage for Atlanta. On average, a single Laney PhD spends 50% of their stipend on rent and 20% on food each month, signaling that our stipends are not enough to support ourselves to conduct the world-class work and research that we do.
- Health Coverage: more robust vision and dental care, low-to-no premiums for dependents. Increases in health insurance premiums for Emory University Student Health Insurance Plan (EUSHIP) have not come with significant improvements in this plan. The health insurance premium for an LGS PhD for one child is 14-15% of their stipend, and 28-30% to cover their child and spouse for the 2023-2024 academic year; from 2022-2023, EUSHIP dependent health insurance premiums increased by 37%.
- Parental Accommodations: improved parental leave policies and benefits on-par with peer institutions, subsidies for childcare, and no risk of losing health insurance during a leave of absence. See our letter in 2022 to the LGS Dean calling for better working conditions for Laney Graduate School parents.
2. How were the guiding issues decided? How are these going to be implemented at Emory?
- These guiding issues were developed and revisited over the past 7 years of EmoryUnite!’s existence as a direct-to-join union by EmoryUnite! members, concerns voice by formal and informal graduate worker groups (e.g. EmoryUnite!’s parent working group), and our focus group we conducted Summer 2023.
- How these issues will be addressed or implemented is a function of 1) what we agree to together as changes we want to see in a union contract and 2) what Emory Administration is willing to negotiate.
Bargaining for a Union Contract
1. What is the process of developing a union contract? Who decides what goes into it? Who approves it?
- Together, we decide what goes into a union contract and vote on whether or not we approve it. Contract negotiations follow the general structure below; typically, we negotiate updates to our contracts every three years:
- Step 1: Conduct surveys to identify issues we want to improve through the contract.
- Step 2: Hold department/program meetings to further discuss issues we want in contract.
- Step 3: Develop a committee or committees to develop proposals for bargaining and to review other graduate union contracts to find contracts we want to emulate.
- Step 4: Develop a bargaining committee to meet with the Emory administration that we elect democratically.
- Step 5: Conduct numerous bargaining sessions.
- Step 6: Once there is a tentative agreement, union members vote to approve or not approve the tentative agreement.
- Step 7A: If we approve, the contract goes into effect.
- Step 7B: If we do not approve, they vote it down, we return to the bargaining table or can strike if we vote to do so.
2. What are examples of union contracts for other PhD programs?
Most graduate union contacts are available online, here are a few examples:
3. Will our contract require identical treatment for graduate students across departments?
- No. Graduate student workers in different departments may have different wants and needs, and we will be able to build these nuances into a potential contract. It is common to negotiate a contract that stipulates different working conditions for workers in different situations. Most importantly, our contract will be collectively negotiated and democratically agreed upon. As a union, we can fight for a contract that improves working conditions for everyone while remaining sensitive to the needs of graduate workers in different departments.
- See Brown University’s most recent contract as an example.
4. How will improvements to our working conditions be paid for?
- At present, when our departments negotiate with Emory’s administration on our behalf, the administration often implies that the outcome must be zero-sum - that any gains for students must be compensated for by the department’s budget. In fact, Emory has vast resources (including a multi-billion dollar endowment) and a broad array of spending priorities from which resources could be reallocated to benefit graduate student workers. In the fiscal year for 2023 alone, Emory secured over 1 billion dollars in sponsored research awards.
- Source: Emory Report, September 5th, 2023
5. What are union dues? Where do dues go?
- Union dues are monthly payments from union members to Workers United-SEIU. Dues pay for direct access to lawyers and experienced union contract negotiations staff. The majority of dues goes to the Atlanta Workers United-SEIU Southern Region Office to cover costs for contract negotiations, staff, lawyers, grievances/arbitrations, leadership training, lost time for members, and general overhead. Additionally, $12.50 goes to the International Union to cover our nationwide expenses and SEIU Member Benefits, and $1.14 per member per month will go to EmoryUnite!
- The union covers all costs for our union members, from counsel for contract negotiations to providing legal aid to members when disputing contract violations with Emory.
- Dues will likely also pay a staff person at Workers United-SEIU to work with us for training as well as stewards to enforce the contract.
6. How much are dues? When do I get charged? Do I have to pay dues?
- The EmoryUnite!/Workers United-SEIU dues will be 1.5% of gross pay from jobs covered by the contract with a maximum of $11.53 per week or $50 per month. This means that even if we negotiate a stipend increase, dues will not go beyond $50 per month. For comparison, we currently pay double this amount for student fees. Below is a comparison of dues vs. student fees ($1,187 per year), calculations and references here:
- (1) Laney Graduate School 2023-2024 base stipend
(2) Annual student fees ($1,187 total), calculated by fee breakdown from Emory
(3) PhD programs under the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (GDBBS)
(4) All other PhD programs that do not fall under Business or GDBBS
- Dues do not start immediately after the election. Instead, they start after we negotiate a contract that is voted on and approved by EmoryUnite! union members.
- Even if the election results in unionization of graduate student-workers, union membership and dues are not mandatory because Georgia is a “right-to-work” state.
7. Will I have to go on strike?
- Strikes are very rare. Only about 1% of contract negotiations end in strikes (1). There are multiple ways for us to act collectively to influence the decisions of the administration when we feel we are being treated unfairly, and a strike is considered the last resort.
- (1) Budd & Budd.Chapter 8: Impasses, Strikes, and Dispute Resolution. Labor relations: Striking a balance. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.
- We can conduct campaigns that focus on raising awareness on campus and in local media as we have done in the past, hold actions like sit-ins, and organize partial work-stoppages such as grading strikes. If we are still unsatisfied with Emory administration’s responses to these actions, 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
1. What is EmoryUnite!’s current structure?
- We are made up entirely of PhD graduate workers across the humanities, STEM, and social sciences programs at Laney Graduate School.
- We currently have 5 co-chairs, a treasurer, and two leads for each of the Communications, Department Stewards, and Outreach teams. We hold a weekly general meeting, and each team coordinates their own meetings/check-ins.
- The Communications team manages the website, social media accounts, and external contacts (interviews with the media, other Emory student organizations, Emory student government bodies, etc.). Department stewards serve as contacts between the union and PhD graduate workers in their academic department. The Outreach team oversees phone banking and canvassing, and coordinates larger union events.
2. What will the structure be after the election?
- If we win the election, union members elect officers and an executive board and, ideally, one department/program steward per PhD program at Emory. Committees would be formed as needed based on our interests and needs.
- See Harvard’s and Duke’s graduate unions for examples of executive board positions, working groups, and committees we can form.
Anti-Union Talking Points
1. What are some common anti-union talking points?
- We echo the Motion Picture Editors Guild that anti-union arguments tend to focus on three themes: “(1) employees should trust management to do what’s best for everyone, without management having to formally negotiate with employees; (2) the union can’t be trusted; and (3) sticking with the status quo is better than the uncertainty of trying to make change in the workplace." Below is an anti-union BINGO sheet of some common claims you may hear about unions in higher education.
2. Emory administration made their own FAQs; how are those different from EmoryUnite!’s FAQs?
- Having a union increases a say in our own working conditions, which likely means that Emory’s Laney Graduate School (LGS) will be able to make less changes without our say. Thus any FAQs from Emory LGS may be biased against unions. While Laney administration has been more direct in the past about not wanting graduate workers to unionize, some of the answers in Emory’s FAQ’s subtly emphasize that the status quo is better than the uncertainty of trying to improve our lives as current and future graduate workers.
3. I'm worried what my professors/advisors 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 that any professor will know that you support a union is if you decide to make your stance public. While some professors may not approve of 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 makes Emory a more equitable place for graduate student workers.
- One study found that, across eight universities, unionized graduate student-workers have better relationships with faculty in comparison to grads at non-unionized peer institutions.
4. 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 usually do not encourage graduate students to form unions, most of the people deciding which new professors to hire will be professors and former graduate students who may even support a union. Some prominent academic organizations have publicly voiced support for graduate student unions, including the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Modern Languages Association (see their 1999 resolution and Academic Collective Bargaining publication).