Frequently Asked Questions
Who is Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE)?
The Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE) is an organization created and run by graduate student employees with the aim of successfully creating a union that represents us and advances our interests. 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.
We believe all graduate students with a service obligation, including those with T-32 funding, should be represented by a graduate worker union.
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
Do other graduate students have unions?
Before the August 2016 NLRB decision that gave graduate student-workers at private universities collective bargaining rights, 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 ruling, 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 Could we gain from forming a union?
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.
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. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) filed an amicus brief in favor of grad unionization in the NLRB case. Further, you will never be limited in the number of hours that you can work at home or in a lab by the union, 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.
My research is funded by an external grant. Am I eligible to be part of the union?
Yes, you are eligible to be part of the union as long as you work for Georgetown in some capacity and receive a W2 from the university. This could take the form of a teaching assistantship, a research assistantship, or fulfillment of the work requirements of a grant using Georgetown’s facilities in collaboration with Georgetown faculty.
What is the process and timeline for forming a union?
We’ve accomplished the first five steps: (1) forming an organizing committee, (2) affiliating with an international union (the American Federation of Teachers), (3) gaining majority membership through outreach on and off campus, (4) ask for recognition of our union from Georgetown, and since they said no, (5) negotiate for an election agreement outside of the NLRB. The next steps will be (6) file for (and win!) an election, and then lastly (7) to bargain for, and sign a contract that benefits all employees.
Will being considered an employee affect my status for purposes of student loan deferment? Will it impact other student rights and privileges?
The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is no, because any changes to your status as a student have already been impacted by the NLRB ruling, whether you are part of a union or not.
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.
Why do Gage organizers visit my lab / office / classroom?
In order to best represent and hear the needs and stories of every graduate worker, we need to be able to hear your needs and stories! This can be difficult to schedule, as we all have papers to grade, research to run, articles to read, students to advise, and grants to apply for. We try emailing—but between deleting emails without reading (we do it too!) and emails getting lost in the daily influx, online communication can be a tough hurdle to overcome. We’re always looking to grow our department organizer group, so that individuals in your department—who know you best—will be the ones communicating and finding out your needs.
We have begun to explore new avenues of reaching out—our town halls, office hours, and our methods of communication through email, Twitter, and Facebook are all ways you can contact us so we can schedule a time to meet. Have a concern? Have a question? Want to get involved? Please reach out, and we will be sure to find a time that works for both of us!
What is this election agreement we won?
In Spring 2018, we sat down and negotiated an election agreement with Georgetown University Administration. You can see it here. In it, we were able to negotiate that when we win our election, Georgetown must come to the table and bargain in good faith over things like stipend and wage levels, benefits including health-care, leave policies, and fee waivers, hours of work required, and more. You can find it all in “Mandatory Subjects of Bargaining.” This is huge news! This shows the power of public pressure - we kept demanding not only an election, but evidence that they would come to the table, and we got it!
What is an American Arbitration Association Election and why is it a good thing?
This was our first choice in our election proposal, so we’re very happy we won this route with the administration. The reason we want a private election (through American Arbitration Association) is that if we went the NLRB route, Georgetown could legally challenge the outcome of the election after the fact on the grounds that they don't think we are workers (this is referred to as 'challenging jurisdiction'). This could result in not only the results of our election being overturned, but in Georgetown being the school that overturns the 2016 Columbia decision and takes away union rights for grads all over the country. AAA blocks that possibility and guarantees that they'd respect the outcome of the election. This is good for us (they are forced to not challenge) and gives Georgetown the opportunity to tie their own hands and look like the nice guys. We also avoid possible stalling through the NLRB itself. It is a political commission, as much as we wish it was not.
I’m graduating in a few months. Why should I join GAGE?
Even if you are coming to the end of your time at Georgetown, there are good reasons to join GAGE. For starters, joining helps your fellow graduate student-workers, and can be as small a commitment on your part as just signing a card and voting. It's a low-cost way to contribute to better working conditions for you friends and colleagues.
But there are other reasons why joining GAGE can help you out even as you prepare to move on. By making Georgetown a better place for graduate student-workers, we increase the prestige of Georgetown, and this adds value to your degree. In treating its graduate workers fairly, Georgetown can attract the most talented and diverse group of students possible, and this is better for the entire Georgetown community, including alumni.
Lastly, congrats on your upcoming graduation!