Union FAQs

What is GEU-UAW?
GEU-UAW is the Graduate Employee Union at the University of Connecticut. We work as Graduate Assistants (GAs), Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Research Assistants (RAs). We are organizing a Union so that we can engage in collective bargaining with UConn.
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What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, we will elect co-workers to be representatives who will negotiate with UConn and put the terms of our employment into a binding contract. With collective bargaining, graduate employee unions have more power to negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.

Without collective bargaining, UConn has unilateral power to change our conditions, such as the dramatic cuts they made to our health benefits last year, the increase in the cost of student fees not covered by our tuition waivers, and increased teaching loads.  If our benefits were secured in a Union contract through collective bargaining, UConn could not make such changes without our agreement.

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How will collective bargaining work once we form our Union?

We will determine democratically the course our Union follows as we move forward.  Once we win formal recognition of GEU-UAW as our Union:

  • We elect graduate employees to be our bargaining committee
  • We fill out surveys and give other feedback to the bargaining committee so that it can develop initial bargaining demands that reflect our interests
  • We vote to approve the initial demands prior to negotiations with UCONN
  • Once our bargaining committee reaches a “tentative agreement” it believes meets our needs on pay, benefits and other terms of employment, we vote on whether to approve it as our first contract. Under state law, if our bargaining committee cannot reach agreement UConn on certain issues, they can enter interest arbitration. Under this process, each side presents its “last best offers” to a neutral arbitrator who decides which proposal on each outstanding issue will be part of the final contract.
  • We elect officers and other representatives to run our Union and enforce our contract.

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Do other graduate employees have Unions?

Yes.  Graduate employees at more than 60 other university campuses already have unions and engage in collective bargaining.  This includes the University of Massachusetts (AmherstBoston, and Lowell), University of Rhode IslandNew York UniversitySUNYCUNYRutgersUniversity of MichiganUniversity of California, and many others.

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Why are we part of the UAW?

The UAW represents over 25,000 graduate employees, more than any other Union in the US.  This includes University of Massachusetts (Amherst, Boston and Lowell), New York UniversityUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of California and California State University.  The UAW also represents postdoctoral researchers at the University of Massachusetts and University of California.

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How can we benefit from collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining gives us the power to negotiate with UConn and allows us to decide democratically what issues to prioritize in these negotiations.

Other graduate employee unions across the US and Canada have successfully improved stipends, healthcare and other benefits, workload and job safety protections and other important rights. For example, unionized graduate employees at the University of California (represented by UAW, Local 2865) have negotiated a contract that provides:

  • Secure job appointments
  • Improved childcare subsidies
  • Paid family leave
  • Full tuition remissions
  • Health benefits, including dental and vision insurance
  • Workload protections
  • Strong protections against sexual harassment and discrimination

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What is the process to form our union?

The process revolves around a majority of us choosing to have a Union.  Connecticut state law says that if a majority of employees sign cards saying they want to be represented in collective bargaining by a Union, then the Union can be certified and the employer would be legally obligated to start negotiations for a contract.  State law also says that if less than a majority, but more than 30%, of employees sign those same cards, the state labor board would administer an election in which employees vote on whether to be represented by the Union.  If a majority of those voting in the election vote “yes” for the Union, the Union would be certified and the employer would be legally obligated to start negotiations for a contract.

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What are the rights of international students to participate in the union?

International students have the same legal right to join and participate in a union as US citizens.  In fact, thousands of international graduate employees have participated in Unions over the last few decades at more than 60 campuses across the US. No graduate employee union has any complications among their members arising from the dual status of being both an international student and a unionized employee.

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How much are membership dues? When do we start paying?  Will I be forced to join the Union?

Dues are important to any union because they provide the financial resources necessary to equalize power with the employer. In the UAW we have democratic control over when we start paying membership dues because no one will pay any dues until after we successfully negotiate a contract and democratically approve that contract. After we vote to approve our first contract, union members will pay membership dues, which are currently 1.095% of our gross salary, during semesters when we have jobs covered under the contract.

Dues support a variety of resources that will give us the clout to represent our members. These include educational, legal, negotiating, and other membership services. Dues also contribute to organizing new groups of workers and political action.

Under Connecticut state statute, no one will be required to become a member of our union. However, since our union will represent all UCONN graduate employees, regardless of membership, and since all graduate employees will receive the benefits of the contract, the state statute requires all non-members to pay an “agency fee” equivalent to union dues. There is a provision under federal law for an individual to file an objection and pay a reduced fee.

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Will we have to strike?

In Connecticut, we do not have the legal right to strike. This just means we will have to come up with other tactics to build power in our negotiations with the University.  In lieu of the right to strike, we also have the right to arbitration in the event negotiations reach a stalemate. This means, when our bargaining committee and UConn cannot come to an agreement, both sides take our proposals to a neutral arbitrator, who chooses the most fair options.

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Why is a grievance procedure important and how does it work under a typical Union contract?

Union contracts typically include a grievance procedure, which is a process agreed to by the Union and the employer as part of the contract that allows employees to enforce the rights, pay and benefits negotiated in the contract. Though grievances are typically resolved quickly and informally, most contracts allow for unresolved grievances to be taken to a neutral arbitrator so that the University does not get to decide unilaterally whether they violated the terms of the contract.

As an example of how a fair and effective grievance procedure can work, you can check out highlights of how graduate employees at the University of Washington have successfully enforced their rights under the Union contract on issues ranging from pregnancy discrimination and tuition/fee waivers to being paid properly and health and safety issues.

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Will the Union force equal wages upon graduate employees from different departments?

No graduate employee union has negotiated a reduction in pay for any group of employees.  And since our input and feedback (through bargaining surveys and other mechanisms) will guide our elected bargaining committee in any future negotiations with the University, it is hard to imagine this happening here at UCONN either.  The typical contract includes percentage annual increases for everyone represented by the Union.  Some contracts give a larger raise to people at the bottom of the pay scale, but still give everyone a raise.
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But I’m an RA.  I thought my pay and benefits are set by the federal government.  How can a Union make a difference?

UCONN currently determines the pay and benefits of all graduate employees, regardless of the variety of sources funding our positions.  Collective bargaining would just mean that we would negotiate those terms of employment, rather than UCONN deciding things unilaterally.  Grant-funded RAs have engaged in successful collective bargaining for many years at the University of Massachusetts and University of Washington.

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What can I do to help?

Speak to the graduate employee organizer in your department and ask how you can help in your department. If your department does not yet have a representative, step up and become involved in the organizing committee! You can find out who your department representative is or volunteer to be on the organizing committee by sending an email to uconngradunion@gmail.com.

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