WHO WE ARE
We are a union of PhD graduate student-workers fighting for a better workplace. EmoryUnite! formed as a voluntary-join union in 2016, following the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling that graduate students qualify as university employees and therefore have a right to unionize. Since then, we have advocated for better benefits, including improved parental benefits, better stipends, and better overall working conditions. However, our ability to have a voice in our university has been limited given that we are a voluntary-join union, which does not have legal bargaining power. In August 2022, we started our card drive, the first step toward official union recognition from Emory. This card drive ended successfully in August 2023, when we filed for an election with a majority of PhD graduate-student workers across all departments!
In this unionization process, we have chosen to collaborate with SEIU (Service Employees International Union), who works with a number of graduate unions throughout the country, including Duke University. SEIU has provided legal help throughout the process, but make no mistake: this unionization effort was organized by and directed by graduate-student workers. For an overview of the entire unionization process, see the "What We're Fighting For" page. See below for statements from fellow PhD workers on why we want a union.
“I support the union because I believe that as graduate students we deserve to be recognized in full for the work we contribute to keeping Emory the top research institution it is today. I also stand in solidarity with non-traditional graduate students who are caretakers, parents, and suffer from pre-existing conditions that could benefit from compensation for ALL the work they put into Emory despite the additional responsibilities they have. Lastly, I believe that as skilled laborers, we deserve the security that comes with a nationally recognized union. I have personally seen students dismissed from the program because of lack of support and failsafes that the union would undeniably provide.” - Kai Littlejohn, 4th year Biomedical Engineering PhD student.
"What's good for us students is good for the university. If we are able to focus on our teaching and research obligations rather than 'how am I going to afford to go to the hospital or see my psychiatrist' we're able to perform at the level Emory expects and wants us to. We can have a higher impact on the undergraduates if we don't have to worry about making our rent payment." - Elijah Zorro Ullman, 5th year Molecular and Systems Pharmacology (entered 2019)
“One of many reasons why I support a graduate student-worker union is that I want more say in my working conditions. During the height of the COVID pandemic, I was forced to TA in person after my repeated requests for a remote option were denied. There was an instance when a student who tested positive for COVID was coming to class, likely because of class attendance policy - another policy I had no say in. I did not feel supported or valued by the administration at that time. I want a union so I can participate in negotiating a contract that legally guarantees my rights as I teach and do research.” - M Wu, 4th year Biomedical Engineering PhD student
“I support a graduate student-worker union because we perform essential work for the university. As a graduate student-worker, I teach a class three times a week and work on events that promote the department. I do this while taking three seminars and studying for my qualifying exams. I know I’m not the only graduate student-worker who has to balance such a workload while also having to choose between paying my electric bill or having enough money for groceries at the end of the month. Having a union will provide the support and compensation that we currently lack, especially now when inflation is so high.” - Abigail Young, 2nd year French PhD Student
"I support a graduate worker union to put us on more equal footing with the university. Employees get to negotiate contracts of employment, and there is no discernable difference between us and employees with training (the few courses we take in our first years). We are educated, qualified citizens trying to launch our careers and families, and we are not paid enough to do these things. Emory thinks the average graduate worker is someone thankful for the generosity of the administration. They should be grateful for us, and compensate us accordingly. We teach, we research, we mentor, we work!" - David Meer, 3rd Year PhD Student
“A graduate student-worker union would ensure that we have a seat at the table during discussions that directly impact our lives and futures, as well as those of our loved ones. Too often, decisions about our working conditions, stipends, and benefits are made without meaningful input from students, and a union would rectify this lack of representation. We deserve negotiating power to advocate for fair and equitable treatment. Our contributions to Emory are vital to its success and reputation as a top-tier university, and it’s crucial that we are compensated and supported adequately in recognition of our training and qualifications.” - Snigdha Peddireddy, 3rd year BSHES PhD student
“I support a graduate student-worker union because the university administration needs to be pressured into paying us a living wage, getting rid of fees, making health insurance affordable for dependents and partners, etc. I support a union because together we are stronger and are more likely to be heard. I support a union because I support my colleagues and co-workers. Particularly in the foreign language departments graduate students are an important labor force, teaching many (if not most) of the introductory level courses. We definitely do work and deserve to be compensated for it. Even when we are not teaching we do work for the university. We organize events and contribute to the overall functioning of the institution, including by doing research. When we publish, when we present, Emory gets a free ad. Lastly, I find it offensive that university administrators that earn at least ten times what we make would advocate against a graduate student worker union. Why are they compensated hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce and disseminate factually inaccurate FAQs while we are underpaid to do essential labor for the success of the university?” - Timothy Messen, 3rd year, Department of French and Italian
“A graduate worker union will have benefits for graduate students and for the university as a whole. If Emory is truly committed to maintaining its status as a top-tier research institution and attracting the best possible student body, it cannot continue to make graduate studies inaccessible for those without outside financial support. This is especially true for departments like mine with a large proportion of international students, who face additional challenges due to restrictions on the amount of paid work they can do. As a parent of two, the decision to pursue a PhD was more difficult because I had to consider the fact that providing for my family and maintaining good health insurance would become that much tougher. Considering the value we provide to Emory, we deserve to have financial security as a bare minimum. Failing this, Emory’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is just talk with no substance.” -Irina Bergenfeld, 2nd year Global Health and Development
“I support a union because graduate students deserve baseline financial stability and the right to collectively bargain for benefits and working conditions. We work hard for Emory, and if we work together, we can ensure that everyone in our community is supported. If we come together, we can advocate for pay that allows us to cover basic living expenses in a city where the cost of living is rapidly increasing. It is only fair to have a seat at the table in decisions that affect us.” -Katherine Soderberg, 3rd year Psychology
“I support a graduate worker union because every graduate worker, in every department, deserves to make a living wage. We are a crucial part of the Emory community, teaching undergraduates, doing research, bringing in grants, and working other jobs around the university. The Emory community only stands to benefit from us being able to maintain basic living standards, and not have to spend time worrying about how we’re going to make rent, pay for our child’s health insurance premiums, or whether we can afford to take a semester off after childbirth if it means risking losing that health insurance. Emory has shown that they are not willing to grant us a living wage without the power of a union. Instead, they have given piecemeal payments or occasional raises that fall short of giving every graduate student an opportunity to do their best work, no matter what financial background they come from. At the same time, they have raised insurance premiums for dependents by sometimes upwards of 20% per year, and increased student fees at their discretion. I know Emory graduate workers’ voices will be heard with a union.” -Dez Miller, 4th Year Comparative Literature
"First and foremost, I support forming a union because it is a durable, legally protected way for us to have a voice in deciding our working conditions. When we are accepted into our graduate programs, our offer letters outline our pay, the duration of our funding, healthcare subsidies, and fees, but these letters are not contracts and all of these details are subject to change without our input. When this happens, we have no choice but to accept these changes or leave without completing our PhDs. Secondly, while my graduate experience has been overwhelmingly positive, I know that others are not so lucky and I believe that union representation will provide vulnerable students with better protections from discrimination and abuse, and hopefully more transparency into the university's internal investigations. Thirdly, I worked as a research specialist here at Emory before joining my graduate program, and there is no fundamental difference between what I did then and what I do now; if anything, as a PhD student-worker I have more responsibilities and more impact on the core mission of the university. Why do I now get paid less and receive fewer benefits? Joining together to form a union is how we can have our voices heard and leave a legacy for lasting change." - Rebecca Parker, 5th Year Cancer Biology Program
“I support a graduate student union at Emory University so that graduate students will not only be formally acknowledged by the university as workers, but also so that as graduate student workers we will be able to have a say in what it means to be a worker at Emory. That is, a union is the means by which we secure our ability to dictate the conditions under which we work: we deserve a living wage, better health care, access to child care and so on. Access to all of these things likewise provides a foundation from which we will be better equipped to perform our tasks as workers. TAing, teaching, RAing, etc., all of the tasks that are expected of graduate student workers are only able to be undertaken, and done well, when we the workers are able to live healthy and fulfilling lives. This, of course, requires a living wage, not living paycheck to paycheck, and being secure in the knowledge that our stipends, as well as the requirements attached to these stipends, cannot be changed at the drop of a hat according to the whims of the administration.” -everet smith, 3rd year in Philosophy
“I support a graduate worker union so that we can negotiate a contract that ensures a living wage, adequate healthcare, and workplace protections so that all graduate workers can succeed at Emory. Our ability to conduct good science (and all research) should not depend on whether or not you come from generational wealth or have a partner that can support you; I don’t want that for my field, for my peers, or for any future graduate worker at Emory.” -Simone Wien, 3rd Year in Epidemiology
“I support a graduate worker union because we deserve to be fairly compensated for the labor we contribute to the university. Graduate workers research, teach, and support numerous programs and centers across Emory. We should not be expected to put our lives on hold while we are in our programs. We should be able to afford medical care, support our families, and save for our futures. Instead, graduate workers are spending more than half our paychecks on rent alone--we know this from Laney's own survey. A union is about solidarity and worker power. I stand in solidarity with grad workers who have suffered discrimination and abuse without effective recourse or protections. I stand in solidarity with grad worker parents who have had to choose between sufficient recovery from childbirth and going back to work to keep their health insurance. I stand in solidarity with international grad workers whose options for supplementary income are extremely limited or nonexistent. Collective bargaining will make our voices stronger. A contract will guarantee rights and protections for every grad worker. Without one, we are at the whims of the administration while they decide the amount and duration of our financial compensation, and we have no seat at the table. I support a union because we are workers and workers deserve rights, protections, and dignity.” -Jareka Dellenbaugh-Dempsey, 5th Year in English
“I support a graduate worker union because our working conditions should not solely depend on sheer luck in finding a supportive advisor or research group. As graduate workers, all of our research and teaching activities contribute to the profits, prestige, and fundamental operations of the university — if we were to discontinue our work, Emory would fail to function as a leading research institution in the country. Despite the value of our labor, Emory’s administration is not held accountable for a long list of grievances from graduate workers: the lack of a living wage, suboptimal health insurance coverage, denialism and a forceful ‘return to normal’ during COVID-19, insufficient child care and family support, penalties to the student stipend for those who work 10+ hours to account for the lapses in compensation, and so on. A union can remedy these conditions and more, by allowing us to gain a stronger position to negotiate contracts that the administration would be obligated to satisfy.”- Tasfia Jahangir, 1st Year in Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences (BSHES)
“I support a union because I am a proud supporter of the working class and poor people. As a low income and first-generation college student, this fight is personal. It is an incredible privilege to be a PhD candidate and I am so proud of myself. However, my title feels meaningless because I can’t afford housing. I am pro a graduate student union for more than just improving my income. It is about ensuring we are all protected as workers and students. Gaining political power to create systemic change for all graduate students to thrive and succeed.” Cynthia Perez, 4th year Genetics and Molecular Biology
“I support a union for graduate workers because we should have the ability to advocate for our own well-being in our workplace. In the current arrangement of graduate workers and our employer, there is a clear power inequity which enables Emory to decide for us what we need to live meaningful and healthy lives and leaves us with limited capacity to obtain wages, protections, and benefits that align with real cost-of-living in Atlanta. A graduate worker union would provide us a pathway to reduce this power inequity because we would be able to participate in decision-making with our employer that shapes our experiences both at work and at home.”- Jerik Leung, 3rd year in Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences (BSHES)
“I support a union because I want a safe working environment. There is no discernible plan in place to protect workers and students in the midst of our current pandemic, nor for pandemics to come. As Emory workers, we need a say in our safety. I support a union because the University will always act in its own interest, and each of us needs to act in ours—together, when we stand in solidarity, our interests hold more weight. I stand with the parents who need childcare and healthcare for their children; I stand with our low-income and First-Gen colleagues who do not have familial wealth to supplement their income; I stand with international students who may lose their housing over the summer; I stand with our disabled and immuno-compromised colleagues who face increased risks in the midst of a pandemic; I stand with all Emory Graduate Student-Workers in our fight for fair representation and working conditions.”- Rebecca Rubenstein, 1st year in Interdisciplinary Hispanic Studies