Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE)?

The Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE) is a union created and run by graduate student employees. We are made up of Masters and PhD graduate workers from across the range of disciplines found at Georgetown University. We span the sciences and the humanities, include both domestic and international workers, and are united to fight for fair and equitable working conditions for all members of the Georgetown community.

What is a Union?

A union is an organized group of employees who collectively use their strength to win a greater voice in the workplace. Through a union, workers have the power to improve their wages, benefits, job security, workplace health and safety, professional development and other work-related issues. Graduate student-workers at Georgetown University have affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the largest representative of graduate employee locals in the United States.

You can find information about the policy changes we are advocating for here.

Do other graduate students have unions?

For decades there have been graduate worker-unions at public universities, including University of Wisconsin, University of Massachusetts, Rutgers, the University of California system, Illinois, the California State University system, University of Michigan, and State University of New York. New York University is one example of a private university with a grad worker union prior to 2016. 

After the August 2016 NLRB decision, graduate student-workers at many private universities began the process of unionizing and are currently at various stages in the process. These include Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Brandeis, University of Chicago, Loyola, Maryland, UVA, Cornell, Brown, Indiana, the New School, Penn, Ohio State, Duke, Northwestern, and many others.  

What do we gain from a union contract?

We can expect pay increases, particularly after we sign our first contract. Every graduate worker contract we have found has included a stipend increase (and in every case the increase was higher than any dues), and we’ve found year-1 increases as large as 38%. Benefits vary based on the unique needs of different campuses, but tend to include summer funding, childcare, dental/vision insurance, better health insurance, healthy living subsidies, strengthened language on discrimination, work limits, more travel funding, and more. What we ask for in our contract is entirely up to us and will be determined by our needs.

You can find information about the changes we are advocating for here.

What have other graduate unions won?

New York University:

  • Stipend increase of 38% for those making the minimum and a 15% increase for those making more than the minimum

  • Elimination of health insurance premium sharing (a savings for grads of about $1,000 per year), and improved dental coverage

  • Protections against having appointments withdrawn at the last minute

  • Increased child care subsidies and the establishment of a fund to cover up to 75% of family healthcare premiums

University of Connecticut:

  • Promotional stipend increases upon achieving Masters Status and PhD candidacy

  • Guaranteed maternity and paternity leave

  • 50% discount on parking

University of Michigan:

  • Guaranteed tuition waivers

  • Healthcare coverage extended for entire enrollment year

  • Job security against arbitrary terminations

  • A $2,500 subsidy for the cost of health care coverage for a spouse or family members, and guaranteed parental leave

University of Oregon:

  • Employer pays 95% of premiums, including for family coverage

  • An assistance fund for grads facing financial hardship, and SEVIS reimbursement for international grad students

  • Up to $360 reimbursement of visa costs for international grad students

Won’t the university have to cut funding elsewhere to afford increased benefits for graduate workers?

There has been no record of cuts being made at ANY of the many universities as a result of unionization. During collective bargaining, we will be able to see how university finances are budgeted, including their endowment this year, and help decide how Georgetown prioritizes its budget. Graduate students will participate in collective bargaining and can refuse to accept the conditions of a contract in which they don’t collectively benefit.

How much will dues be? When would we start paying dues?  

The first thing to note is that absolutely no one will have to pay dues before we sign a contract. Once we sign a contract, we can expect to pay dues of around 1-2% of our annual salaries, and this is something that we will discuss and vote on. However, our contract will include wage and benefits increases that will more than offset the cost of dues (or we won’t sign it!). Dues will, in essence, amount to a portion of our new, higher, wages and benefits. Prior to signing a new contract, our organizing committee may ask for donations in order to help throw events--but these will be strictly on a volunteer basis. You absolutely won’t be required to pay dues until you get a better contract!

who runs our union?

We do. GAGE was founded by graduate workers, and it will continue to be democratically run by graduate workers. We affiliated with AFT, a union with a reputation for respecting the independence of its local affiliates, meaning that we value  and prioritize our autonomy as an organization. Affiliation with a national union means access to more resources, including legal counsel and organizing assistance.

As a group of volunteers, we want everyone to be involved. There are a number of ways to get involved: you can join one of our committees, come to general meetings, or take on special responsibilities necessary for the union’s functioning.

Will being part of a union hurt my relationship with my advisor or PI?

While we can’t account for the union-politics of every advisor, scholars say unionization has no negative effect and perhaps a small positive effect on the relationship between advisors and advisees.

Additionally, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) filed an amicus brief in favor of grad unionization in the NLRB case.

The union will never limit the number of hours that you can work at home or in a lab, only in the number of hours you can be compelled to work. There are of course legal limits on maximum weekly work hours set by the federal government.

Are international workers eligible to join the union? What can international employees gain by joining a union?

Yes, international workers are eligible to join a union because they have the same legal right to join a union as US citizens. And international workers have played a central role in organizing and running unions at more than 60 university campuses across the US. Visa requirements in no way compromise your right to belong to a union that represents you in a US workplace.

No graduate student-worker union has reported any complications among their members arising from the dual status of being both an international student and a unionized employee. Graduate unions often provide crucial support to their international worker members: providing tax workshops, access to immigration lawyers, and expedited grievance and and arbitration systems for international workers. As Georgetown’s international student population continues to increase, a union can provide crucial support when the University doesn’t invest in the specific resources we need.