The FAQs below are drafted based on questions students and others have shared with the university. The information will be updated as needed during the unionization process.
What is a union?
A union is an association of workers formed to negotiate with their employer with respect to the terms and conditions of their work, including wages, benefits, and other work-related issues. Union representatives negotiate with employers through a process called collective bargaining, and both parties are bound by the terms of the resulting contract.
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.
What can a union do with the cards it collects?
A union 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). A union also could submit the cards in support of a petition for a representation election to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in order to hold a secret-ballot election 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.
Once a student has signed a card, can they 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 they have 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.
What would happen if there was an election?
An election would likely take place within a month after the regional director of the NLRB directs it. NLRB representatives would conduct and supervise all aspects of a secret-ballot election. Voting would likely take place at one or more easily accessible locations on campus on a specified day, during specified hours. 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.
If a graduate student signed an authorization card, would they 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.
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 without pressure or coercion. The election would be conducted according to well-established rules that regulate the conduct of both Yale University and the union. The NLRB would decide who is eligible to vote, modify or approve the scope of the potential bargaining unit proposed by union, and any other issues that affect the election.
If there were an election, how important is student turnout?
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.
Would unionization affect the role of the student government?
Currently, Yale 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 Yale 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.
What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a process by which the union will negotiate with Yale terms and conditions of employment for all students in the bargaining unit. The agreement between the parties would be spelled out in a collective bargaining agreement or labor contract.
Who is part of the bargaining unit?
The bargaining unit is that group of graduate students for whom the union is the exclusive bargaining representative. The make-up of the bargaining unit has been determined by the NLRB.
The unit includes: All students enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, including those affiliated with a professional school, who are appointed as Teaching Fellows, Writing Fellows, Project Assistants, Research Assistants or Research Assistants - University Fellowship; All students enrolled in a professional degree program in the School of Management who are appointed as Teaching Fellows with the Position Detail of Discussion Section Leader; All students enrolled in a professional degree program in the School of Music who are appointed as Teaching Fellows with the Position Detail of Discussion Section Leader, Lab Leader or Teaching Assistant; All students enrolled in a professional degree program in the School of Medicine who are appointed as Teaching Fellows with the Position Detail of Discussion Section Leader or Teaching Assistant; and All students enrolled in any other professional degree program at Yale University who are appointed as Teaching Fellows or Writing Fellows.
The unit excludes: All Teaching Fellows with the Position Detail of Course Assistant – Jackson Institute; All students enrolled in the Drama School and appointed as Teaching Fellows with the Position Detail of Class Assistant; All first-year students enrolled in the School of the Environment and appointed as Research Assistant – University Fellowship; All students enrolled in the PhD program in the School of the Environment and appointed as Research Assistant – University Fellowship; and All other employees, proctors, travelling proctors, office clericals, managers, guards and supervisors as defined in the Act.
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.
How long would negotiations take?
There is no established timetable for bargaining. One analysis published in Bloomberg Law estimates an average of 409 days for a first contract to be signed by new unions and their employers. The time necessary to reach a contract depends on the issues that need to be resolved through negotiation. Yale wants to reach a contract and will bargain in good faith toward that end.
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.
What will be negotiated at the bargaining table?
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) requires employers and unions to bargain collectively with respect to “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment”.
Could Yale 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.