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Overview of Graduate Student Education at Yale University

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences provides unsurpassed support to its Ph.D. students, which allows them to focus on their scholarship, successfully complete their education, and find rewarding careers.

Each doctoral student receives an annual stipend ranging from $29,000 to $34,450, plus free tuition and comprehensive health care for all students and their families. Yale knows of no other peer school that does this. Over six years, the total cost of support equals nearly $375,000 for a single Ph.D. student. For a student with a family, the support totals more than $445,000.

Yale incorporates teaching into the graduate student curriculum not for budgetary reasons, but to help our world-class student scholars to gain valuable experience that their future employers will want. This makes graduate students categorically different than Yale’s full-time university employees. Teaching is an important part of what it means to be a graduate student. But teaching is part of one’s professional academic training, and it is only a segment of the graduate student experience. 

Over the course of six years, doctoral students gain valuable teaching experience as part of their training, by devoting no more than a sixth of their time to teaching, and in many cases far less.

Information concerning activism and advocacy at Yale can be found at http://ogc.yale.edu/ogc/activism-and-advocacy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate Student Organization

A. Overview and Applicable Law

B. Graduate Student Unions and Private Universities

C. History of Union Organizing at Private Institutions

D. Process of Establishing Union Representation

E. Collective Bargaining

F. Right to Strike

G. Some Effects of Unionization on Faculty and Graduate Students


A. Overview and Applicable Law

1. Can graduate students at private universities unionize?
Yes. The recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board in the Columbia case overruling its 2004 Brown University decision now permits graduate students at private universities to unionize. This is the third time in sixteen years that the Board has reversed its decision on this question.

2. What is the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)?
The NLRA is the federal law that governs relations between labor unions and employers whose operations influence interstate commerce. The NLRA applies to private employers, including private universities such as Yale.

3. How does the NLRA apply to graduate students at private universities?
Under the NLRA, employees of private employers now have the right to unionize or to choose not to do so. Since the Board has determined that graduate student teachers and researchers are “employees,” the NLRA applies to them.

4. What is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)?
The NLRB is an independent agency of the United States government that enforces and oversees administration of the NLRA. It has two principal functions:

  • To hold secret ballot elections to determine if employees wish to be represented by a union for purposes of negotiating and establishing the terms and conditions of employment with their employer and, if so, by which union;
  • To prevent and remedy unlawful acts (called unfair labor practices) committed by employers or unions.

The Board does not act on its own initiative. Rather, it processes only those charges of unfair labor practices and petitions for employee elections that are filed with the NLRB in one of its regional offices, each of which is run by a regional director.

5. Who serves on the NLRB?
A five-person Board and a general counsel govern the NLRB. With Senate consent, the President appoints all Board members and the general counsel. Board members are appointed to five-year terms, and the general counsel is appointed to a four-year term. The general counsel acts as a prosecutor, and the Board acts as an appellate judicial body for decisions of administrative law judges.

B. Graduate Student Unions and Private Universities

1. What issue did the NLRB consider that would affect private universities?
In its 2004 Brown University decision, the NLRB held that students who provide services that further their university's educational programs are primarily students and therefore not employees within the meaning of the NLRA.

In the case involving a petition filed by the United Auto Workers (“UAW”) seeking to represent graduate students at Columbia University, the NLRB has now overturned its decision in Brown and held that graduate students at private universities who provide services to their institutions are employees under the NLRA and thus may unionize under, and otherwise have the protections of, the NLRA. Yale and all other Ivy League schools plus Stanford and MIT filed a joint amicus brief in this case, opposing the position the NLRB adopted. (http://news.yale.edu/2016/02/29/yale-other-universities-submit-amicus-brief-national-labor-relations-board).

2. Have graduate students at a private university unionized and bargained a labor contract before?
NYU is the only private university that has (twice) entered into a labor contract with its graduate students. The first contract, negotiated over the course of roughly a year between NYU and the United Auto Workers, was approved in January 2002. In the wake of the NLRB's decision in Brown, and after significant faculty deliberation and input, NYU withdrew recognition of the graduate student union in 2005, after the contract expired. NYU subsequently restructured its compensation of graduate student teachers by paying them in accordance with the bargaining agreement then in effect for adjunct faculty who were already unionized. After the UAW filed a new petition to represent the graduate student teachers and researchers in a separate unit, NYU agreed in 2013 to conduct a private election in which it remained neutral. Following a vote in favor of the union, NYU negotiated with the UAW for fifteen months and entered into a new labor contract in 2015. As the Ivy League amicus brief noted in the Columbia case before the NLRB, NYU faculty have expressed serious concerns about how their graduate student union has been detrimental to academic decision-making and the quality of graduate education itself (http://news.yale.edu/2016/02/29/yale-other-universities-submit-amicus-brief-national-labor-relations-board; see also Section C, #4-7).

3. Have graduate students at private universities ever voted to reject a union?
Yes. Teaching assistants at Cornell University voted against being represented by the UAW in October 2002. The vote was 1,351 against unionization and 580 in favor. In 2003, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (“GESO”) at Yale conducted its own vote under the auspices of the League of Women Voters. GESO lost the election. Although the votes cast in an election at Columbia were never counted as a result of the NLRB's decision in Brown, a published survey of graduate students at Columbia showed that the UAW likely lost the election conducted there in March 2002 by a margin of 2-1.

4. How are private universities different from public universities, some of which have graduate student unions?
Federal law under the NLRA governs labor relations of private employers, including private universities. Labor relations at public universities are not covered by the NLRA. Some states have labor laws that govern public employees, including those who work at public universities. Some state laws expressly give certain groups of graduate students the right to unionize. In other states, although the state public employee labor statutes do not expressly mention graduate students, state labor boards or state courts have interpreted the statutes to cover them.

5. Are there other important differences in the law governing public sector universities and the law governing the University?
Yes. The differences between federal labor law and the various state labor laws mean that the rights of graduate student unions are different depending on the applicable law:

  • State labor laws often have greater limits on the scope of collective bargaining than federal law. In particular, some states place special restrictions on the scope of bargaining in the educational context in order to preserve the autonomy of universities over academic decision-making.
  • In most states, strikes by public employees are illegal. (Despite these limitations, some public universities have faced threatened and actual teaching assistant strikes that have disrupted undergraduate courses.) For example, graduate assistants have struck at the University of Illinois, the University of Oregon and the University of California system.
  • Since graduate student teaching assistant unions now are allowed at private universities, they are governed by federal labor law (the NLRA), which permits strikes. In fact, GESO members at Yale went on strike in 1995, withholding grades from Yale College undergraduates and causing significant disruption in the Yale community.
  • Federal law, unlike state labor law, does not provide for a final and binding mechanism – such as fact-finding or arbitration – for resolving disputes over the terms of collective agreements. Most contracts under NLRA carry their own mechanisms for grievance resolution and arbitration, as negotiated by the parties.

6. Can graduate students at all public universities unionize?
Graduate student bargaining units have been recognized at public universities in approximately 16 states. In the remaining states, the question of whether graduate students have a right to unionize has not been litigated and remains unsettled.

7. Have graduate students at public universities ever voted to reject a union?
Yes. For example, teaching assistants at the University of Minnesota have rejected unionization four times – in 1990 and 1999 following multi-year campaigns by the American Federation of Teachers; in 2004, when the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers sought to represent them but lost by 60% of the votes; and in 2012, when the UAW lost by 62% of the votes. In 2011, the Teachers Assistants Association at the University of Wisconsin at Madison voted not to seek an annual recertification required by state law.

C. History of Union Organizing at Private Institutions

1. Has there been union organizing activity by graduate students at private institutions since the 2004 Brown decision?
Yes. In early 2010, the UAW asked New York University to voluntarily recognize a union of graduate researchers and teachers. NYU declined the request and the UAW filed an election petition with the NLRB. Citing the NLRB's decision in Brown, the NLRB’s regional director dismissed the petition. The UAW then asked the NLRB to review and overturn its decision in the Brown case.

2. Who has sought to represent graduate students in collective bargaining at other private institutions?
Between 1998 and 2004, the UAW conducted organizing drives among graduate students engaged in teaching and research at Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Tufts University, and New York University. In addition, the American Federation of Teachers conducted an organizing drive at the University of Pennsylvania, and HERE (the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union) sought to represent graduate teaching assistants at Yale. In 2013, NYU voluntarily recognized the UAW following a private election. In 2014, the UAW filed petitions with the NLRB to represent units including graduate students at The New School and at Columbia University. The UAW is currently conducting an organizing drive at Harvard, while graduate students at Cornell recently voted to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers.

3. What happened to the organizing drives at each institution?
During 2000-2002, the unions seeking to represent graduate assistants at Brown, Columbia, Tufts, and Penn filed election petitions with the NLRB. After hearings were held in each case, NLRB regional directors in the respective districts ruled that certain portions of each university’s teaching and research assistants were employees protected by the NLRA and ordered elections to be held.

Brown and Columbia filed petitions for review of the regional directors' decisions, and the NLRB agreed to hear the appeals. In the meantime, elections were held at Brown in December 2001, at Columbia in March 2002, at Tufts in April 2002, and at Penn in February 2003. The ballots in each election were sealed by the NLRB pending its review of the appeals. In 2004, via its review of the regional director's decision in the Brown case, the NLRB held that graduate students at private universities are not employees within the meaning of the NLRA and thus could not unionize under the NLRA. As a result, the votes at Tufts, Columbia, Brown and Penn were never counted.

Cornell University took a different path. The UAW filed a petition at Cornell in May 2002. In July 2002, Cornell and the UAW announced that they had reached an agreement to permit Cornell's teaching and research assistants to hold an election pursuant to NLRB procedures to decide whether the UAW should be their collective bargaining representative. Under the agreement, Cornell reserved its right to withdraw recognition of the union following decisions in the Brown and Columbia appeals. An election was held at Cornell on October 23–24, 2002. The vote was 1,351 against unionization and 580 in favor.

Finally, Yale experienced over a decade of organizing activities by a union formed by graduate student assistants. The activities included a “grade strike,” and over three-dozen unfair labor practice charges filed by students with the NLRB against Yale, many of whom claimed that faculty members violated the law.  However, the graduate student union did not file a petition for an election with the NRLB, and thus an NLRB-supervised election was never held at Yale.

4. What types of terms and conditions of employment were included in the collective bargaining agreement between New York University and the United Auto Workers, which represented NYU's Graduate Student Teachers from 2001-05?
NYU's graduate student teachers and internally-funded research assistants affiliated with the United Auto Workers and voted in the union during a brief period when the law permitted graduate students at private universities to unionize. After over a year of contract negotiations, the UAW and NYU entered into a collective bargaining agreement (also called a labor contract or CBA). The terms and conditions of employment covered by the CBA included wages/stipends, working hours, health insurance, travel and meal expenses, leaves of absence, job postings, access to offices, telephones and photocopiers. The CBA also contained a “just cause” provision limiting NYU's ability to discharge a graduate student, a grievance and arbitration procedure, and a no-strike clause.  Significantly, the contract “vested exclusively” in NYU the right to plan, direct and control the University's mission, programs and objectives; to determine the content and process for performance evaluations, to determine when instruction is delivered; and, in recognition that such matters involve “academic judgment,” the right to determine “who is taught, what is taught, how it is taught and who does the teaching” (and exempted all disputes over such matters from the grievance/arbitration process).

5. What steps led to NYU's decision to withdraw recognition of the graduate student union?
Because the law had changed when the NLRB issued Brown, when the NYU contract expired in 2005, it was up to NYU to voluntarily recognize the union or withdraw recognition. As part of the decision-making process, NYU sought the input of several faculty committees.

In one committee report, the faculty acknowledged that, as part of the fundamental commitment of seeking to attract top graduate students and to ensure their success, there were “compelling reasons for preserving and indeed improving the conditions in the current union contract that deal with stipend levels, health care coverage, sick leave, posting of positions, work loads, and grievance procedures.” The faculty committee also noted that, “the process of negotiating a union contract facilitated progress on a number of these matters.”

However, the committee went on to observe that “a traditional employee/employer relationship should not be at the core of students' relationship with the university; educational and intellectual matters are. Graduate students make vital contributions to the university in their roles as teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and research assistants, but graduate students should be regarded, first and foremost, as students, apprentice researchers, and trainees of their faculty mentors rather than employees. Similarly, assistantships should be regarded, first and foremost, as part of their professional training.”

6. What other reflections did NYU faculty have on the graduate student union experience?
The faculty committee expressed its concern that the UAW “has filed grievances over issues that have threatened to impede the academic decision-making authority of the faculty over such issues as: the staffing of the undergraduate curriculum; the appropriate measures of academic progress of students; the optimal design of support packages for graduate students; and the conditions and terms of fellowships (as opposed to graduate assistantships).” The committee also stated that it was “worried by the willingness of the United Auto Workers to take such issues to arbitration and by the nature of the arbitration process, in which an outside arbitrator, who rarely has prior experience with the environment of universities, makes decisions that are legally binding on departments and programs. Although no case involving academic decision making was decided in the favor of the United Auto Workers, this result was only achieved by a combination of vigilance and good fortune, and there are no assurances that the results will be the same in the future. Had any of the cases been decided differently, the ability of faculty to staff the curriculum and to design and implement programs in accordance with their best academic judgment would have been impaired.”

7. What was the NYU faculty recommendation?
In reaching a conclusion, the faculty committee stated, “the readiness of the United Auto Workers to grieve issues of academic decision-making and the nature of the arbitration process leads the Committee to conclude that it is too risky to the future academic progress of NYU for it to have graduate assistants represented by a union that has exhibited little sensitivity to academic values and traditions. The Committee therefore recommends that NYU not re-enter into negotiations with the United Auto Workers and that it replace the current contract with more appropriate arrangements for governing its relationship with graduate students and providing them the support and respect they deserve.”

D. Process of Establishing Union Representation

1. What are authorization cards, and why do unions collect them?
Authorization cards are signed, written declarations submitted by members of a potential bargaining unit stating that they want a particular union to be their exclusive representative for the purposes of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment with their employer. Typically, unions collect authorization cards as part of an organizing drive – that is, an attempt to show that there is an interest in unionizing and a desire to have the union serve as the exclusive bargaining agent.

2. What can a union do with the cards it collects?
A union could submit the cards in support of a petition for a representation election to the NLRB. A union also could present the cards as proof of support for the union and request that the University voluntarily recognize the union as graduate students' exclusive bargaining agent through a “card check” (i.e., in the absence of a secret-ballot election).

3. What does it mean to submit a representation petition to the NLRB?
A petition is a formal request addressed to the NLRB to determine by secret ballot election whether a majority of employees in a bargaining unit wishes to be represented by a particular labor organization for the purposes of collective bargaining. When submitting a petition, a union must show that at least 30 percent of the employees in the appropriate bargaining unit want the union to be their bargaining agent. Whether a 30 percent showing of interest has been demonstrated is an administrative determination made by the NLRB's regional director and, for all practical purposes, is final. The NLRB regional office covering Connecticut is in Boston.

4. What would the NLRB do with a representation petition?
Upon receiving the petition, the regional director typically assigns an agent to the case, who begins a preliminary investigation. In general, this investigation is designed to determine whether the employer is in interstate commerce, whether the petition has been properly filed with the requisite showing of interest, and whether there is any possibility that the parties will consent to an election.

When the two sides do not consent to an election, an NLRB hearing officer conducts a formal representation hearing. After gathering all the relevant information, including witness testimony and documentary evidence, the hearing officer forwards the full record of the case to the regional director without recommendation. The regional director then reviews the case and can decide to dismiss the petition or order an election in a bargaining unit determined to be appropriate.

5. If there were an election, when would it be held?
An election would probably take place within a month after the regional director or the NLRB directs it.

6. How would an election be held?
NLRB representatives would conduct and supervise all aspects of a secret-ballot election. Voting would likely take place at an easily accessible location on campus on a specified day, during specified hours.

7. Is student turnout important?
The outcome of any election would be decided by a simple majority of votes cast. For example, if only 100 out of 500 eligible students vote, 51 voters would determine the outcome for all 500 students in the bargaining unit, as well as future students. The NLRB has adopted the principle that voters who do not participate in a democratic election assent to the will of the majority of those voting.

8. What is a collective bargaining unit, and who would be a part of it?
Collective bargaining is a process by which the union and the University would negotiate over terms and conditions of employment for all students in the bargaining unit. Employees in a bargaining unit must share a “community of interest” – which is typically demonstrated through similarity of wages and hours, common supervision, frequent interchange or functional integration with other employees, and area practice. However, the Board has significantly modified its approach to determining the scope of bargaining units such that a unit proposed by a union will generally be considered appropriate unless the employer is able to establish by overwhelming evidence that a community of interest is lacking. Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, the NLRB regional director would decide the appropriate bargaining unit and thus which graduate students would be eligible to vote.

9. Would graduate students be eligible to vote if they are not in a teaching or research assistant role in the semester during which the election is held, but held such roles in the quarter immediately preceding the election and will be in such roles in the semester following the election?
There is no simple rule regarding eligibility and the NLRB would have to decide whether only graduate students who hold teaching and/or research appointments during the semester in which the election is held would be eligible to vote, or whether it would permit students holding appointments during the year in which the election is held to vote.

10. Could graduate students “opt out” of the union by not voting?
No. The results of any election would bind everyone in the bargaining unit, including students who do not vote, students who vote “no” and future students who won't have a chance to vote.

11. Once a student has signed a card, can he or she take it back?
Under federal law, a union has no legal obligation to return an authorization card once it has been signed and submitted. Moreover, an individual cannot effectively revoke a card once he or she has signed it, as the NLRB follows a policy that any changes in employee support for unionization during a card campaign should be resolved in an election.

12. If a graduate student signed an authorization card, would he or she be required to vote in favor of the Union?
No. Signing an authorization card means that the graduate student supported the union’s request to hold a secret ballot election administered by the NLRB. Once the NLRB orders a secret ballot election, each eligible voter is free to vote for or against unionization.

13. How does the election process protect students?
An NLRB election would permit graduate students to cast their ballots in secret, exercising their free choice in an environment free from pressure or coercion. The election would be conducted according to well-established rules that regulate the conduct of both the University and the union. The NLRB would decide who is eligible to vote, the scope of the potential bargaining unit, and any other issues that affect the election.

14. Does federal law prohibit faculty members from expressing their opinions about graduate student unionization during an election process?
No. Faculty members have the right to participate in thoughtful dialogue and public discussion about these matters, but federal labor laws do contain some rules about how faculty may communicate their opinions to graduate students. Since the NLRB has ruled that graduate students at private universities are permitted to unionize, faculty are now considered “managers” of graduate students in their teaching or research roles and faculty conduct could become the basis for charges of unfair labor practices against the University. Faculty members have the right to express their opinions regarding union organizing, the advantages and disadvantages of graduate student unionization and related subjects as long as they do so in a manner that does not involve what the NLRB or courts would construe to be threats, interrogation, promises of benefits, or surveillance. For more information, view TIPS memo or contact the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel at 203-432-4949.

E. Collective Bargaining

1. What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a process by which the union would negotiate with the University over terms and conditions of employment for all students in the bargaining unit. The agreement between the parties would be spelled out in a written document called a collective bargaining agreement or labor contract.

2. What is a collective bargaining unit, and who would be a part of it?
Under the NLRA, employees in a bargaining unit must share a “community of interest” – something typically demonstrated through similarity of wages and hours, common supervision, frequent interchange or functional integration with other employees, and area practice. Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, the NLRB regional director would decide the appropriate bargaining unit and thus which graduate students would be eligible to vote.

3. Who would sit at the bargaining table?
Representatives of both the University and the union would sit at the bargaining table. On the University's side, labor relations professionals, administrators, and faculty members would likely participate. On the other side, the union would pick its own bargaining team, which might include graduate student leaders, members, and staff, together with representatives of the union itself.

4. How would the union’s position at the bargaining table be determined?
Federal law does not mandate how a union is to determine its agenda for bargaining. Although there often is membership input and even balloting on proposals, the decision-making typically rests with the union leadership.

5. What would be negotiated at the bargaining table? What would not?
The NLRA requires employers and unions to bargain collectively with respect to “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment” – concepts that the NLRB and the federal courts have interpreted broadly. The NLRB and the federal courts have no experience analyzing what are “terms and conditions of employment” for graduate students whose teaching is part of their academic training. Thus it is possible that disagreements over what is “bargainable” or not in the context of higher education would result in litigation.

6. How often would bargaining occur?
It would depend on the length of each contract, which would be an issue for negotiation at the bargaining table. The parties are obligated to negotiate a new contract only at the expiration of the previous contract.

7. How long would negotiations take?
There is no mandated timetable for bargaining. Some contract negotiations are straightforward and relatively brief. On the other hand, some contract negotiations are contentious or involve numerous issues that are not easily resolved. In such instances, it can take many months or even years to reach a contract. First contracts usually take longer to reach than subsequent contracts. For example, at the University of California at Berkeley negotiations on a first contract took more than seven (7) years.

8. How long has bargaining over a contract taken at some of the public universities that have graduate student unions?
The length of time it takes to negotiate a contract varies greatly from university to university, and from contract to contract. At the University of Michigan, where teaching assistants are unionized, bargaining typically takes four to six months, although it has taken as long as five years. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a contract took two years to negotiate, while at the University of California at Berkeley, readers, tutors, and acting instructors received their first contract after seven years of negotiations.

9. How would lengthy bargaining affect students?
It depends. The University and the union could agree to certain interim provisions during negotiations, but typically the terms and conditions of employment (including wages and benefits) remain unchanged during negotiations, regardless of the duration of negotiations. Thus, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, graduate students’ minimum stipends remained the same for two years while contract negotiations over other issues were at a stalemate. At the University of California at Berkeley, readers, tutors, and acting instructors did not receive a stipend increase for seven years while their contract was being negotiated.

10. What if an individual graduate student disagreed with a provision in the contract? Would he or she still be bound by it?
Yes. Collective bargaining is, as it sounds, collective in nature. That means that the union speaks for all graduate students in the bargaining unit, and the provisions in the contract it negotiates apply to all unit members, unless exceptions and differences are provided for in the agreement.

11. Could the University make exceptions to provisions in the contract to accommodate the circumstances and needs of individual graduate students?
No, unless such exceptions were provided for in the contract or otherwise agreed to by the union. For example, if an individual graduate student wanted to teach in a particular quarter in order to schedule around a research opportunity, but was not in line to teach that quarter under the contract's system for determining teaching assignments, the department might not be able to accommodate that student's request.

12. If the University wanted to improve a graduate student benefit provided for in the contract, would it be able to do so before the next contract was negotiated?
Yes, but only if the University and the union specifically bargained for such flexibility and included it in the contract, or if the union consented to the change on an ad hoc basis. At New York University, the United Auto Workers charged NYU with committing unfair labor practices for, among other reasons, increasing stipends and partially subsidizing the cost of health insurance for doctoral students in NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

13. What if the University and union couldn’t reach agreement on a contract?
Although the two sides have a legal duty to bargain in good faith, once an impasse is reached, the employer has the right to implement unilaterally its last proposal, with the parties obligated to continue bargaining. Determining when the parties have reached impasse, however, is rarely clear-cut and often leads to litigation.

14. Why are public universities able to limit the subjects of bargaining?
Unlike the NLRA, which would govern negotiations with a graduate student union at Yale and other private universities, some state labor laws governing public universities with graduate student unions contain explicit limits on the subjects of bargaining. These limitations recognize the uniqueness of graduate students' status as students and employees, as well as the need to protect the integrity of academic programs.

In other states, the state labor board or state courts have created limits on collective bargaining between graduate student unions and universities. For example, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission has held that the University of Michigan has no duty to bargain over matters “clearly within the educational sphere,” even if those matters affect the employment status of graduate students. The New Jersey courts have recognized that the rights guaranteed by the state public employee relation act “will be preempted when they infringe on important educational policies.” Neither the NLRA nor NLRB or federal court precedent create analogous limits on collective bargaining.

F. Right to Strike

1. Could a graduate student union go on strike?
Yes, unless the labor contract prohibited strikes, and even then a strike is possible under some circumstances (e.g., if the contract expires and the parties do not agree to extend its terms during contract negotiations).

2. If the union decided to strike, would all unit members be forced to participate, even if individual members disagreed?
Although unit members are always free to express their views, ultimately, under federal labor law, a union may fine or discipline its members who refuse to participate in union-sanctioned strikes.

3. Could a graduate student union go out on sympathy strikes with the other unions with whom the University has labor contracts?
Yes, unless the labor contract provided otherwise.

4. Are graduate students in a recognized union more or less likely to strike than non-unionized graduate students?
The University is not aware of any statistics or studies regarding the incidence of strikes or other disruptions of education by unionized and non-unionized graduate students. It is important to note that all existing graduate student unions except for one are at public universities governed by state labor laws and that state labor laws often limit strikes by the employees they cover. A graduate student union at the University or any other private university, however, would be under the jurisdiction of the NLRA, which permits strikes. For example, during NYU’s negotiations with the UAW its graduate students threatened to go on strike and cease their instructional activities with undergraduates.

5. Have other graduate student unions gone on strike?
Yes. Under state labor laws, which generally limit the ability of public employees to strike, graduate students at the University of California, the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, the University of Toronto, and elsewhere have engaged in strikes, walkouts, and other job actions. In addition, graduate students at NYU, the only private university to have a graduate student union, went on strike in 2005 after that university withdrew recognition of the union in the wake of a change in the law. That strike lasted approximately one semester. Graduate students at NYU also threatened to strike during recent contract negotiations between the University and the UAW.

6. What have been the effects of these strikes and walkouts?
In some instances, strikes and walkouts have been threatened but not consummated, or have been one- or two-day strikes that have not materially disrupted educational programs. In other instances, strikes and walkouts by graduate student unions have resulted in disruptions, divisiveness, and damage to relationships between graduate students and faculty and between graduate students and undergraduates. During the grade strike at Yale in the 1995-1996 academic year, teaching assistants withheld the grades of undergraduates and some assistants refused to turn over student examinations to the faculty in charge of their courses.

G. Some Effects of Unionization on Faculty and Graduate Students

1. Would unionization change graduate students' relationships with their faculty advisors or graduate student culture at Yale?
It is difficult to predict how a graduate student union would change University academic culture, including graduate student-faculty relationships. With a union in place, graduate student teachers/researchers would be defined under labor law as “employees” and their advisors would be “supervisors.” Normal discourse and mentoring that takes place between faculty and students with respect to graduate student teaching issues could be altered, as the union would be the exclusive bargaining agent for students on all issues related to their “terms and conditions” of “employment.”

2. If there were a union, would faculty members be limited in what they could discuss with graduate students?
In a case involving Yeshiva University, the United States Supreme Court held that, under the NLRA, faculty members are “managers” acting on behalf of their employer (the University). This principle applies regardless of whether the University recognizes a graduate student union or a graduate student union wins an NLRB-supervised election. As such, with respect to their relationship with graduate student teachers, faculty members are therefore prohibited from saying or doing anything that interferes, restrains, or coerces those “employees.” During the period from 1996 to 2003, GESO (now “Local 33”) filed unfair labor practice charges against about thirty Yale faculty members charging them with interfering with union activity. Some of these charges alleged that faculty who engaged in academic discourse about the merits of graduate student unionization had intimidated union members in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. While none of these charges were ever sustained, the University was forced to defend the faculty statements and actions before the Regional Office of the NLRB, and the episodes produced great stress and anxiety among Yale professors.

3. If there were a union, could graduate students sit on departmental or school committees?
If a bargaining unit of graduate student teachers and research assistants were certified, the union would become its exclusive voice to the University on matters related to graduate student teaching and research assistantships insofar as they relate to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. With respect to those issues, other avenues of communication between graduate student teachers/research assistants and the University through departmental/school committees and student body governments could be restricted.

4. Would unionization affect the role of the Student Government?
Currently, the University consults the Graduate Student Assembly (“GSA”) and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (“GPSS”) on a wide range of matters affecting graduate students. If teaching and research assistants were to unionize, the union would be their exclusive representative regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. It would be unlawful for the University to deal with the GSA or the GPSS as a representative of graduate student teachers on most matters relating to their appointments, including amounts received for teaching and health insurance. Also, in some circumstances, federal law would prohibit the University from setting up advisory committees with graduate student members without union consent.

5. How would decisions affecting students be made within the union?
It is likely that a group consisting of selected graduate student teachers and union officials would represent the union in collective bargaining with the University. There is no legal guarantee that graduate students in all departments, divisions or schools would be represented. Because of the high turnover rate in graduate student unions, union leadership would be likely to take the lead in negotiations.

6. Would all members of the bargaining unit have to join the union?
Regardless of the union membership status of individuals, a union would represent every person in the bargaining unit.  Under federal law, if provided for in a collective bargaining agreement, a union can compel members of a bargaining unit either to become dues-paying union members or to pay the union an agency or representation fee (typically a similar amount to dues). Sometimes dues are a flat annual rate, while other times they are a percentage of wages. The union also could require bargaining unit members to pay initiation fees. Failure to pay dues could result in dismissal from a teaching or research appointment. While the amount of the dues that GESO would require is not known, under NYU's contract with the UAW students are required to pay 2% of their total compensation, which includes their wages and their NYU funding packages. The NYU-UAW bargaining agreement is available at: http://www.makingabetternyu.org/gsocuaw/wp-content/uploads/GSOCNYU_2015contract_searchable.pdf

7. Could graduate students remove the union if they no longer wanted to be represented by the union?
A new petition would have to be filed with the NLRB to initiate a new representation process. Petitions can only be filed between 60 and 90 days before the end of a contract term.

8. Could the University increase funding while bargaining with the union over a contract?
Under the law, the University would not be permitted to make any unilateral changes in terms or conditions affecting students in the bargaining unit while negotiating a contract.


Some of this information is adapted from materials developed by the University of Chicago.