Why are graduate employees unionized?

There is a strong legacy of grad unionism. We’re part of a movement of grads at over 30 other universities across the country that have fought for and won significant gains for graduate employees. Here in Oregon, grad employee unions at OSU and UO have negotiated everything from subsidized health insurance (including dependents!) and increases in minimum stipends to overwork protections and student fee reductions. Before grad employees unionized, the graduate employee base pay was only $385, this was increased to $885 at the time of our first contract four years ago, with scheduled raises! Additionally, at the time of the contract only 45% of student fees were paid by the university when employed by the university, while presently the university pays 80% of student fees. The union also successfully negotiated complete tuition remission as a guarantee for all GAs; previously, before unionization, there were classes the university required grad employees to pay for. And last, but certainly not least, the union established protections for working over your contracted hours with the right to launch grievances when workplace violations occur.

Who’s part of GEU?

GEU is member-led. Our union focuses on the issues that are most important to our members. Our union is made up of nearly 800 graduate teaching assistants, research assistants, and administrative assistants at PSU who drive the mission, priorities, and actions of our organization. All GEU members are encouraged to play an active role in our union.

What is GEU’s relationship with faculty advisors, supervisors and researchers?

Unionized grads report that clear standards for wages and workload expectations lessen the anxiety and tension between themselves and their departments. GEU is affiliated with two strong national education unions, the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers, which have a long-standing presence on our campus. Full-time (AAUP) and adjunct (AFT) faculty at PSU are unionized and have been very supportive of GEU; thus, most of them understand that higher wages, better benefits, and clearer expectations provided by a contract encourages student recruitment and retention — and that’s good for the whole university!

Can international students join GEU?

International students across the country participate in and are members of graduate employee unions. Participation or membership in a union cannot be considered a factor in making visa decisions. International student employees have the exact same rights to join and support a union as US citizens.

Why does GEU have member dues?

Member dues give the union bargaining strength. When members pay dues, the union has a stronger position to bargain for better pay and better working conditions. Unions have power because workers are coming together with one voice for the improvement of all workers’ conditions. Without unions, we wouldn’t have an 8 hour work day, weekends, or worker’s compensation; without GEU, we wouldn’t have the pay and benefits we have, and we wouldn’t have the power to continue to negotiate even better pay, conditions, and benefits. 

Union work requires both people power and infrastructure. We rent office space on campus, we create materials to educate and inspire our membership, we pay legal fees when the administration violates the contract, we pay membership fees to our parent union, and we have operational fees for the systems used to organize and communicate with the membership. Dues help pay for these necessary expenses, and they pay for themselves! Organizing efforts have already increased graduate employee’s take-home pay above the minimal member fee. Every union needs member fees to cover the ongoing costs of organizing to increase and protect your rights. 

The university knows exactly how many grad employees pay their union dues, and to the university, paying dues is what indicates that the grad employee supports the union’s activities in organizing for labor rights. The more grad employees who stand up to the university, the better chance we have at negotiating larger pay increases and fee reductions, better health care options, and stronger work protections. The more of us that are actively supporting the union by paying dues, the harder to ignore we become.

How much are union dues and how do I pay?

Our membership voted to set a dues rate of 2% of monthly gross income, an amount typical for graduate unions. When you become a member, dues are automatically deducted by payroll. We have done everything we can to keep our fees as low as possible and go directly to supporting the organizing efforts of the union for increased pay, lower fees, better healthcare, and more working conditions protections for all grad employees.

How can I join?

Membership is how we show our strength to administration and how we accomplish our goals as an organization. By voting on our contract and in leadership elections, members establish these organizational goals and agenda. To become a member of GEU, Graduate Assistants must sign a membership card. You can sign up online by clicking “Join GEU”, emailing membership@pdxgeu.org, or talking to your department steward.

How can I get involved?

There are a lot of ways to get involved! GEU is a member-led union and we’re looking for people with various interests and talents. The first step is to sign a union membership card. If you’re excited about research, communications, talking with your co-workers about GEU, building ties with the broader community, or have another idea about how you’d like to be involved, please reach out to us! You can join the Executive Board in one of the open positions, become a steward, or join a committee.