What is AGWA/UAW?
Why a union?
Why are we joining with UAW?
Who will make the decisions and be in control?
We will! All major decisions are made democratically by members, and a great benefit of having a union is that there are established structures and procedures for making decisions, communicating and resolving issues, and the legal and administrative structures to support and facilitate this that we can adapt to our context in Alaska. Being a chapter of a union organization does come with some rules and guidelines (to keep everything legal and copacetic), but as long as local chapter decisions fall within those, the members of that chapter make decisions through a democratic process.
What about dues? How much does this cost?
We will not pay union dues until after we’ve signed authorization cards, successfully established our union through a representation election, and then bargained and democratically ratified our first contract. At that point each individual student employee can decide whether or not to become a dues-paying member. Dues will be an important source of power for us, and are independent resources that support our work (unlike, say, student fees which are controlled by the University of Alaska administration). Union members democratically decide how union dues are spent, and create accountability: we all can and should decide whether the value of a collective bargaining agreement is worth union dues.
I'm an international student. What are my rights?
How can a union advocate for everyone when every position/department/campus is different?
The university already sets policies (including pay and other minimums) for graduate student employment that all departments must adhere to (see here for UAF and here for UAA). Many departments choose to supplement pay or other benefits but cannot violate established University policy. If we can bargain with the University administration as equals, we would review these current policies and decide collectively what we think could be improved or what should stay the same. We could also maintain the flexibility departments have to, for example, pay grad workers more. This is how most Academic Student Employee contracts are structured, because most Academic Student Employees wouldn’t vote for a contract that results in losses to their current situations.
This can make a big difference in our compensation, as many unionized campuses' minimums are far above what even the highest paid graduate worker at UA makes. For example, at the University of Washington (where graduate workers have been unionized for over 30 years), the minimum pay rate for a Premaster student is $2664/month and for a PhD candidate is $3076/month (for the academic year at 50% FTE)–more than even the highest paid departments at UA. But departments have the flexibility to pay more than the established minimums, and many do (see this chart). We’re stronger together!
But isn’t the University of Alaska in the middle of a budget crisis?
Will the CBA cause my department to reduce benefits, or pay, or the number of appointees they can hire?
Once a union is formed, the University of Alaska Admin cannot unilaterally alter any terms and conditions of employment—including pay and benefits. Instead, changes to terms and conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining. This means we would have to democratically approve a contract that reduces our benefits or pay for such a thing to happen. Moreover, the number of ASEs at unionized campuses has increased or remained stable over time, not decreased.
Will the CBA limit the hours I can work?
We will democratically decide on the terms of employment that most benefit our ability to perform research at a high level. Recent contracts negotiated by other UAW academic unions have emphasized protections against excessive workload while allowing flexibility to allow for maximal productivity. For example, the contract for ASEs at the University of Washington protects against excessive workload by setting an hourly limit to the amount of work that may be assigned, but allows work assignments for Research Assistants to exceed their hourly limit if that work contributes to their dissertation project. UW grant revenue has significantly increased over time while ASEs have been able to protect themselves against doing work that slows their time to degree.
Will a union make everything better for everyone?
Not instantly. These things take time! But by forming a union we will immediately gain more power to make change and establish a predictable, democratic and transparent mechanism for raising, evaluating, and addressing concerns that members have. We also build on standards set by other unionized campuses, and in turn set standards that help elsewhere. The whole point of the union is to provide a democratic process to collect and prioritize member concerns, and more weight and transparency to influence decisions that affect us.
Will we have to strike?
Hopefully not! The decision to strike (like all others within the union) is democratically made, and requires a ⅔ majority to be authorized. But any individual does not have to join the strike and we would engage in a process to determine a strategy that would permit maximum participation.
What issues can collective bargaining with the union address?
Who can vote on union issues/a CBA?
Anyone who is a graduate research assistant, teaching assistant, service/engagement assistant, student assistant, or fellow, regardless of citizenship. People performing similar duties but holding different job titles are also included.
If I support the union can my PI or supervisor retaliate against me?
No. Federal law is clear: “It is unlawful to discourage (or encourage) union activities or sympathies "by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment." For example, employers may not discharge, lay off, or discipline employees, or refuse to hire job applicants, because they are pro-union.”
UAW currently represents 80,000 Academic Student Employees, Postdocs, and Researchers in the US, and has represented tens of thousands more over the years. There has never been a recorded instance of an academic worker being retaliated against due to their involvement with a union.
The University administration is free to express its opposition to student employees unionizing. Other University administrations have opposed the formation of the unions representing Academic Student Employees, Medical Interns and Residents, Postdocs, and Faculty. It is important to be aware of the record of university administrations attempting to discourage unions.
The AGWA/UAW organizing committee will support ASEs concerned about possible retaliation. Contact us if you have concerns and questions.
How does the unionization process work?
Here is a basic overview to forming a union (the dog sled shows our current progress):
How long will this take?
It is hard to say. Ideally, with a successful card drive and election, a union could be formed within a year. However, there is no graduate student worker union in the state of Alaska which means we are heading into unknown legal territory. There is the possibility of legal roadblocks and delays between the initial card drive and union election or between the union election and the first contract with the university. But the larger the majority of us who support and actively participate in the campaign, the more leverage we have to overcome obstacles.
Even if you will graduate before a union gets off the ground, you lose nothing by signing a card or voting yes, but your card/vote will positively impact future graduate students (and not harm you in any way).
I want to help organize!
Awesome! Send us your name and email at organize(dot)agwa@gmail(dot)com and we'll be in touch.