1. What will we gain by forming a union?
We believe all full-time graduate-student workers at Emory should: 1) make a living wage, 2) be fairly compensated every time we work as teachers, researchers, mentors, instructors, and tutors, 3) be provided with comprehensive healthcare coverage for ourselves and our dependents, 4) have access to fair and comprehensive parental accommodations, and 5) have the protection of a union in situations involving discrimination, harassment, or any other kind of unfair treatment.
The present and future of Emory only stands to gain from a graduate-student worker union. Competitive pay and benefits will aid our departments and faculty in the recruitment process. The students we teach will have better classroom experiences when their teachers are treated fairly. The essential work of this institution will be improved by a union that grants us the support and dignity we deserve, without changing our fees and benefits on a whim.
2. Who is eligible?
At this time, we are asking all graduate students pursuing a PhD in Laney Graduate School to sign an authorization card in support of unionization.
3. 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.
4. What will the process look like? What is a card drive?
The unionization process is a legal process that involves working with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which will ultimately supervise an election at Emory. We are currently in phase 1: signing 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 petition the NLRB 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, we will then have a legal union! The next step is democratically electing representatives from our union who will negotiate with the university to agree on a legally binding contract specifying our pay, benefits, and working conditions. Contracts typically take 1-3 years to get ratified.
5. I’m confused by the language on the virtual card.
6. 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, and have even signed our faculty support letter. 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.
Studies have even found that unionized graduate student-employees have better relationships with faculty in comparison with grads at non-unionized peer institutions.
7. 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).
8. What is SEIU? Why are we working with them?
Emory students first joined together in an effort to form a legal union in 2016. That group of students decided to work with SEIU in order to get guidance on legal and strategic issues relating to union organizing. SEIU works with a number of graduate worker unions across the country, many of whom are in a similar stage in the process as our union, like Boston University and Duke University . 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 NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) indicating that they would not see graduate workers as employees, especially at private universities. In response to that decision, EmoryUnite! members decided to pivot, maximizing their impact as a direct-join union, and continued to benefit from SEIU’s guidance. EmoryUnite! was able to make a limited impact in this format, but given a direct join union’s lack of legal bargaining power, many efforts 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 SEIU’s help.
9. I thought we already had a union. What was the old structure?
Emory students first joined together in an effort to form a legal union in 2016. EmoryUnite!’s initial card drive ultimately had to be abandoned due to guidance from a Trump-elected NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) indicating that they would not see graduate workers as employees, especially at private universities. In response to that decision, EmoryUnite! members decided to form a direct join-union. EmoryUnite! was able to make a limited impact in this format, but given a direct join union’s lack of legal bargaining power, many efforts were stymied or ignored by the university. The NLRB guidance was changed once the Biden administration came into power, and thus in 2021, we decided to re-devote our efforts to becoming a legally recognized union, starting with a card drive.
10. What will our dues be? When will they start?
No one will pay any dues until we sign our first contract. Annual dues are typically 1-2.5 percent of a union member’s salary. The goal of the union is to negotiate higher salaries for everyone, with an income increase that far exceeds the prospective union dues. For example, 1% of the minimum graduate stipend of $34,317 is $343 total per year (less than $30/month). This is significantly less than what we pay yearly in student fees, which come to nearly $1K per year.
11. 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.
12. Will our contract require identical treatment for graduate students across departments?
Not at all. 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. The important thing to remember is our contract will be collectively negotiated and democratically agreed to. 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.
13. Are unions businesses?
In the past, the Laney administration has put forward the misleading idea that “unions are businesses.” Actually, unions are nonprofit organizations, much like Emory University.
14. 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 in the past 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.
15. 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.
16. 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 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 multi-billion dollar endowment) and a broad array of spending priorities from which resources could be reallocated.
17. Have other grad unions succeeded?
To Be Added
18. 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. To become a steward or join a team, fill out this contact form.