The Basics

Labor unions are well known in the manufacturing and construction work settings. They are legal entities composed of workers who organize together to form a bargaining unit representing the workers. The bargaining unit(s) can then set contractual terms with the employing organization with legal protections. Individually, workers have little negotiating power with which to protect their interests from employers. Employers can change terms, revise benefits, withdraw services or support, extract resources, etc. without notice to the employees or repercussions to the employing organization. In contrast, a union is a collective, and as a collective and legal entity, they can make demands to employers with the requisite authority, legitimacy, and credible threat to justify that the employing organization pay attention to the issues important to the employees, and that they request approval from employees before making unilateral decisions.

Many graduate students are employees as teaching and research assistants to their employing universities. There is a precedent and long history of unions at universities. Unions for adjunct professors and Unions for graduate student at public universities have been commonplace for many years all across the country. Unionization efforts for graduate students at private universities are more recent, in part because only recently has it been ruled legal by the courts. There is an opportunity now for graduate students in private universities to organize together, legally, if they choose to. As a result, many universities across the country have been mobilizing, organizing, and unionizing. A union is a vehicle through which individual graduate student demands and needs can be voiced and attended to, with serious consideration, by the administration. A union is a legal entity that has the ability to form contracts and offer stability for students, such that changes to insurance, stipends, program requirements, wages, workloads, etc cannot be made or enforced unilaterally by administration to students unannounced or unapproved.  A union, however, also changes the relationship between administration and students from one of hand-shake based trust to a more formal, predictable, contractual form. Is unionization right for WashU?