Table of Contents

What is a union? What is a graduate worker union?

A union is a democratic organization of workers that is legally empowered to represent the interests of employees and collectively negotiate a contract with an employer over working conditions including pay, benefits, and grievance procedures.

Graduate unions represent graduate student workers at dozens of public and private universities in the United States including at Harvard, Columbia, Brown, the University of California, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin.

What issues can a union address?

Graduate student workers at Yale have identified many issues that could be addressed by a union and contract: pay that keeps up with the rising cost of living; better access to mental health, dental, and specialist health care; protections for international student workers; and real recourse in situations of abuse, discrimination, or harassment.

As union members, we would collectively determine priorities for our contract and any tentative contract would be subject to a ratification vote open to all members of the union.

What are the steps to winning a union?

In the United States, there are two main ways unions achieve recognition. An employer can voluntarily recognize a union, based on a majority of workers expressing support.  Alternatively, unions can seek recognition by filing a petition for recognition with the National Labor Relations Board. This petition must be supported by at least thirty percent of the workers, which is usually demonstrated by union cards.

The employer must then respond to the petition. If the employer and union do not agree on details of the secret ballot election including who is eligible to vote, the method for voting, and the date and location(s) of the election, the NLRB will decide those questions.

If a majority of ballots are cast in favor of the union, the National Labor Relations Board certifies the results and the employer is obligated to begin bargaining a contract in good faith.

Can I be retaliated against for participating in the union campaign or joining the union?

Your right to join, support, and organize a union is protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The university cannot legally discriminate against, discipline, fire, or otherwise retaliate against you for being involved in the union. If you think you may have observed or experienced unfair treatment for participating in the union campaign, please contact 33@yaleunions.org.

Can international student workers participate in the union campaign and join the union?

Absolutely! U.S. law protects your right to support, organize, and join a union regardless of citizenship or visa status. It is illegal to retaliate against any worker for organizing their workplace, including taking action to jeopardize or change your immigration or visa status.

The National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel – the agency’s top prosecutor – has publicly committed to ensuring that workers who are not U.S. citizens are able freely to exercise their rights under the NLRA:

“In order for all workers to be able to exercise their rights under the Act, we must zealously guard the right of immigrant workers to be free of immigration-related intimidation tactics that seek to silence employees, denigrate their right to act together to seek improved wages and working conditions, and thwart their willingness to report statutory violations.  I am resolved to hold fully accountable those entities that, by targeting immigrant workers and their workplaces, undermine the policies of the NLRA and the nation’s immigration laws.”

NLRB Memorandum GC 22-01, at *1 (Nov. 8, 2021)

More information on your rights as an international graduate worker to organize and join a union is available here. If you have additional questions about participating in the union campaign as an international student worker, please contact 33@yaleunions.org.

Will having a union prevent me from working more than a certain number of hours?

A union contract usually sets a maximum number of hours that you can be required to work without additional compensation. With a union contract, you would have protections and recourse from being forced to work arbitrary hours or perform work outside your job description.

Will having a union mean that my PI/department will not be able to admit/fund as many graduate student workers?

The university and individual programs will still retain the sole right to decide how many graduate students to admit to each program.  That is not a topic about which the university must negotiate with a union.

In Fiscal Year 2021, the university endowment made 40% returns and is now worth over $42 billion, so Yale would have the financial means to absorb higher pay rates without cutting admissions. Because the university also determines how much overhead they require from every grant a lab brings in, the central administration could reduce these costs for PIs or even subsidize the training of graduate scientists if they wanted to.

Will having a union make my pay decrease?

A contract would set a minimum salary, just as Yale currently sets minimum stipends that departments may exceed or augment. Without a contract, raises are not guaranteed and the administration alone determines the amount and timing of any pay increases. While it’s not possible to predict what Yale will propose in contract negotiations, Local 33 would not agree to a contract that lowered pay. Additionally, it is highly unlikely that a majority of graduate workers would vote to ratify a contract that did not benefit them financially. In fact, graduate workers at our unionized peer institutions have won significant pay raises in their contracts.

Will I have to pay dues?

Yes. Like any organization, a union takes work to run. Dues pay for any staffing that might be required to keep the union functional and strong; and for any legal fees we need during negotiations or to support members going forward.  Dues rates must be approved by a membership vote.  Furthermore, the union will not collect dues until after ratification of a first contract by the membership. 

Will I be forced to go on strike?

The union cannot force or require anyone to go on strike or withhold their labor. Graduate workers may decide that a strike is necessary in order to settle a good contract.  A strike action would require a vote by the entire membership.  Even after a vote, it would be up to each worker to make a decision about whether to participate.

Don’t graduate student workers already have representation at Yale through the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate?

Graduate student workers have the ability to recommend policies or changes to the Yale administration through current bodies like the GSA and GPSS, but do not have the ability to ensure those recommendations are implemented or followed. A recognized union and a contract are the only ways to legally guarantee that graduate workers have a real seat at the table, are democratically empowered to negotiate collectively over our working conditions, and have independent recourse in instances of mistreatment or abuse.

Additionally, there are aspects of graduate student life that are better suited to the advocacy and deliberation of the GSA or GPSS. Local 33 does not seek to replace these bodies.

In fact, many graduate workers who are active in organizing with Local 33 also serve on or have served on the GSA and GPSS. In April 2022, the GSA voted to approve a resolution that “affirms that graduate workers are workers and thus have a right to and an interest in unionization, and urges the Yale administration to respect and recognize the critical labor graduate workers perform for the university” and “recognizes Local 33 UNITE HERE as a potential on-campus partner in its own advocacy efforts.”

Will a union interfere in my relationship with my advisor/PI/committee?

A study by researchers at Cornell shows that relationships between graduate workers and faculty at unionized public universities were not negatively impacted by unionization, and that having wages and benefits covered by a contract relieved common sources of stress and conflict between graduate workers and faculty. Union contracts often provide much needed clarity about expectations for both workers and supervisors. And in cases where there is a breakdown in the relationship between a grad worker and their advisor or PI, a union can provide a path for productive conflict resolution and mediation.

No one would be required to make use of union processes or involve a union representative to resolve conflicts with any PI or other faculty supervisor. Processes like a grievance procedure would exist as options that graduate workers can choose to utilize if they think it will be helpful to them. 

Is Local 33–Unite Here an outside organization?

In the past, the Yale administration has tried to paint Local 33 as an agitating outside organization, or cast doubt on our partnership with other unions and community organizations.

In fact, the union is made up of graduate student workers, coming together and acting collectively. Graduate workers ourselves will organize a union, vote for a union, negotiate a contract and then ratify that contract.

We’re proud to be in solidarity with other campus workers like department registrars, library and curatorial assistants, lab techs, and custodians who make our own teaching and research possible—and work alongside us to support the educational and research mission of the university.

We’re also proud of the work Unite Here does nationally to raise the standard of living for hospitality and service workers in many different industries, including for hotel and cafeteria workers right here in New Haven.

Even though we are affiliated with Unite Here and work in coalition with other unions, Local 33 is its own organization that is led and organized by Yale graduate workers. As a recognized union, grad workers will determine our structure of internal governance, elect leaders, make decisions, and negotiate a contract.

I’m in! How do I sign a union card?

You can sign a union card electronically at any time. If you would like to set up a time to meet in person or talk by phone/Zoom with a grad worker organizer about unionizing or signing a card, please get in touch by emailing 33@yaleunions.org. You can sign a card even if you do not currently live in New Haven. A member of the Local 33 organizing committee may reach out to you as well about signing a card and to answer any questions you might have about the campaign.

Signing a union card is an important and meaningful way to demonstrate your support for a union. If a majority of graduate workers sign union cards, the University can decide to recognize Local 33 and begin negotiating a contract! If Yale decides not to recognize majority support for a union on their own, we can use the union cards to petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election. When you sign a card, you can also sign up to get emails and text updates about the campaign.

What does filing for an NLRB election mean?

Workers can seek recognition for their union by filing a petition for recognition with the National Labor Relations Board. This petition must be supported by at least thirty percent of the workers, which is usually demonstrated by union cards.

On October 24, we submitted thousands of union cards from graduate researchers and graduate and professional teachers to the regional office of the NLRB. We also submitted the election petition to President Salovey, but no cards have or will be submitted to any representative of the university.

When can we vote?

Yale will now have the opportunity to respond to our petition. In the past, Yale has used the NLRB process to challenge the employment status of graduate student workers and attempted to overturn the federal regulations protecting our status as workers with a right to form a union. We hope that this time Yale will choose not to delay or challenge the process of union recognition, and instead respect the thousands and thousands of graduate student workers who have demonstrated that they want a union.

If we cannot reach an agreement with Yale on details of the secret ballot election including who is eligible to vote, the method for voting, and the date and location(s) of the election, the NLRB will decide those questions. If a majority of ballots are cast in favor of our union, the National Labor Relations Board certifies the results and the employer is obligated to begin bargaining a contract in good faith.

Could the university recognize Local 33 through another process?

Though the Yale administration has in the past refused to recognize a grad worker union through another democratic process like a card check, Yale could still decide at any time to recognize the support for a union we have already demonstrated. Agreeing to a democratic process like a card check is not uncommon. Grad workers at Brown University, as well as minor league baseball players, and employees at the Graduate New Haven hotel have all achieved union recognition through a legal process other than an NLRB election. Employers generally agree to such a process in order to be as neutral as possible and demonstrate that they will not attempt to interfere in or influence their employee’s decisions regarding unionization.

What is the Yale administration’s position on graduate worker unionization? Why are we asking for neutrality?

Since May, we have called on leaders at Yale to publicly commit to being neutral and letting graduate workers decide for ourselves free of employer interference or intimidation whether we want a union. On October 13, we held a rally attended by over 1,000 grad workers and our allies demanding respect for our work and a real commitment to neutrality.

Members of the Yale administration like President Peter Salovey and Dean Lynn Cooley have publicly expressed their opposition to a graduate worker union in the past, and the university has already circulated a misleading “FAQ” on graduate union organization similar to those used by other university administrations attempting to influence the outcome of union elections. This year, Dean Cooley has called for “robust debate” about graduate worker unionization. However, we know that it is difficult for many grad workers, especially those in our community who are already more marginalized or precarious at the university, to feel confident in exercising their basic legal rights to organize or support a union when people in positions of power at Yale have opposed such efforts. We, along with many of our allies on campus and in New Haven continue to call on university leaders to make a real commitment to neutrality and respecting our voice.

How will we decide what to bargain for?

Before any negotiations commence, all members of the union will be able to participate in electing a bargaining committee, just like at Harvard, Columbia, and other universities.  Through surveys, meetings, and organizing committees, all members of the union will also get to be part of the process of identifying our contract priorities.

What will dues be?

Any future dues or fees must be decided and voted on by the membership of Local 33. Unions collect dues so they can effectively support their members. At Harvard, graduate workers set union dues at 1.44% of gross pay for teaching and research. Union members at Brown set their dues at 1.65%, and grad workers at Georgetown decided on 1.79%.