Unionization Testimonies

The claim that grad unions undermine the relationships with faculty advisors or otherwise negatively affect the quality of graduate education is a common anti-union propaganda, used by university administrations for many years to undermine unionization of graduate workers. Such scare-mongering tactics are yet again deployed against grad workers, following the historic NLRB decision recognizing graduate workers in the US private universities as workers.

As is commonly the case with anti-union talking points, there is absolutely no basis for such a claim! There are now more than 60 recognized grad unions in North America; check out what graduate student workers in already-unionized universities have to say about their experience!


-“Union protection eases many of the anxieties that inevitably arise when trying to maintain a collegial relationship in the context of power imbalances, which makes it possible for me to have more authentic relationships with professors. Union protection also makes it possible for workers like me to challenge any unfair or harmful practices if they occur, so that we can constantly strive for even more productive and friendly relationships between professors and grad students. Indeed, the effects of unionization on my professional relationships have been so unambiguously positive that I would be skeptical of any “special relationship” that insists on one set of participants maintaining its disadvantaged position as a precondition for that relationship to continue, and would wonder whether that kind of relationship is worth preserving in the first place.” – Paige Sechrest, University of Washington, Department of Political Science

-“When I worked at the University of Arizona, a so-called “right to work state,” I had no representation in the drafting of contracts and negotiating of wages, had no job security, and knew without a doubt that my colleagues were making different wages for the same work. Now that I attend the University of British Columbia, all of these issues are handled through my union, CUPE 2278, and in getting involved with the union personally, I have learned so much about the ways unions can support graduate students… the union worked to solve issues, correct injustices and defend students who were caught in terrible situations complicated by the unequal power dynamic inherent in graduate/supervisor contexts… In ensuring that everyone plays by the rules, unions allow grad students to spend less time worrying about where or when their next paycheck will come or how they will be treated on the job so that they can spend more time gaining experience teaching and researching and finish their degrees.” -Trish Everett-Kabut, President, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2278 at the University of British Columbia

-“Being in a union means more than access to better benefits and wages. Being in a union is about solidarity and respect between students, staff and faculty.  A union helps level the playing field and fosters democratic engagement around issues that matter in the workplace and in my broader community. I would hope that all institutions of higher learning would support these principles.” —Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer, University of Washington, Political Science

“Belonging to a union with a strong contract actively protects my time, energy, income, and benefits, allowing me to focus on my academic work even when teaching. The faculty and administrators in my department also tend to view GEO-UAW2322 and our contract favorably, as many were union members, supporters, or organizers at their own graduate institutions– my adviser included. Since beginning graduate work here, I’ve seen faculty and grad student-workers bond over their experiences with the labor movement on a whole range of occasions. Some professors even come out to GEO rallies.” – Anna Waltman, GEO-UAW 2322, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, English

-“Since the formation of our Union in 2014 and the start of our first contract in July of 2015, we have seen tremendous improvements in our quality of life as GAs at UConn. Not just through the economic benefits and workplace protections we won in bargaining, but also in the peace of mind that comes from the stability of having a contract and also from the cross-departmental solidarity that now exists on campus as a result of our organizing… I just can’t say enough about how much unionization has improved conditions at UConn and I sincerely hope that our colleagues at countless other colleges and universities across the country will have the opportunity to experience these same improvements.” – Todd Vachon, GEU-UAW Local 6950, University of Connecticut

-“Through the union, I have met people from across departments and disciplines who are united in our struggles. This strongly impressed upon me that the “individual nature of students’ educational experiences” does not supersede our need to collectively fight to stand up to both individual and campus-wide injustices. Focusing on individual experiences serves to exacerbate systemic problems by isolating individuals into silence. 

It is shameful that many university administrations would pull out the trope of a union causing a less collegial workplace. This ignores the inherent power that our institutions and our supervisors have over us as grad students and graduate workers and how that limits our abilities to advocate as an individual. Having a unionized framework to navigate workplace issues can diffuse a tense situation as there is a prescribed procedure to follow with expected outcomes. Collective organizing and action allows us to have a voice that is uniquely ours that sometimes has to be aggressive and loud in order to be heard by those in positions of power.

Having been a part of that fight has made my graduate experience richer. While at times the struggle was tough, we were able to make it through with each other. It has forever altered my worldview for the better. “ – Reagan Belan, Teaching Support Staff Union, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC Canada

-“Working as a unionised teaching assistant not only provided me with securer material conditions within which to do my work, as you might expect, but with the kind of security and safety that allowed me to do my teaching work better. Not just because safety typically comes prior to success on Maslow’s pyramid, but because union membership facilitated excellent personal relationships with the professors for whom I TA’d. With a clear framework of expectations and formal recourses available to everyone on both sides, and with the knowledge that those expectations actually meant something and could be enforced *by both parties* (and were not just the token ‘associations’ of a ‘benevolent’ administration), we were all able to get on with the business of trying to be excellent and mutually-helpful teachers. If my or my fellow TAs had begun to feel overworked, disrespected, and exploited, I’m not sure our relationship with the Prof, or our work, would have been anywhere near as good.” – Steve Eldon Kerr, McGill University, Political Science

-“Having a union guarantees that I work under fair, just, reasonable, and secure conditions. Without this I wouldn’t be able to give the same quality of instruction to my students. Undergrads know how much their education depends upon the labor of graduate instructors and they know that a union-led contract protects their interests as well as mine. This creates a greater sense of empathy, interdependence, and mutual support amongst undergrads and graduate students. As for faculty and staff, having a union-led contract pushes them to see and treat me as a fellow colleague. Opponents of graduate worker unions say that unions produce an adversarial relationship. The relationship of employer to employee is necessarily an adversarial one; having a union just provides a framework in which that tension is not devolved onto the personal and emotional relationships of the workplace.” – Will McKeithen, University of Washington, Department of Geography

-“As a graduate student in STEM, I work very intimately with my Principle Investigator (PI), and never once has my involvement with our graduate student union imposed any stress on this vital relationship. Ultimately, PIs and graduate students in STEM are working towards the same goals and are fighting vigorously together to retain the funding that supports both of their careers. Ensuring a graduate student’s financial security, the right to a safe and healthy work environment, as well as access to affordable health insurance through the power of collective bargaining offered by union representation only serves to increase the efficiency and productivity of graduate students, and as a result, strengthen the relationship between graduate students and their PIs. I firmly believe the support provided by my graduate student union has enhanced my performance in my intellectual and academic engagements, and in doing so further bolstered my relationship with my PI.” – Alexandria Wells, GEO-UAW 2322, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Molecular and Cell Biology Program

-“As an International student I can say how amazing is for me to have the union. Not only is a place where I can go precisely with the problems that can come from the relations with faculty and supervisors -and that without the union I wouldn’t have anyone to turn to- but also the union has had my back in other general issues with the university administration by making sure I know my rights and those are protected.” – Lola Loustaunau, GTFF – AFT 3544, University of Oregon

-“This past year, for the first time in decades, my department faced budget cuts that threatened graduate student positions. Many students faced the loss of healthcare, threats to their visa statuses if they were international students, and the possibility of dropping out of a program they’d devoted years to in order to survive. Undergraduates in my department faced the prospect of diminished educational outcomes due to the loss of instructors and class availability. Through a solidarity movement driven by student workers within our union, we were able to prevent many of these positions from being cut. This experience taught me that unionization is vital to both the economic well being of graduate students and the education of undergraduate students. Unfortunately, we live in a world where universities are encouraged to put their bottom lines ahead of the lives of their workers and the educational needs of the students whose tuition they depend upon. Unionization is an important measure we can take to ensure that universities maintain their core educational values without exploiting workers.” Erin Adam, University of Washington, Department of Political Science

-“One of the greatest benefits of a graduate workers union is that becomes the centre point of interdisciplinary discussion. As a physicist, I’ve learned far more about Linguistics, Mathematics, Chemistry, History and Philosophy in the union than I was ever exposed to in any of my degrees. The argument that unionization interferes in academic pursuits is specious… The union is the heart of the University, a place for discussion, debate and action. I couldn’t imagine attending a University without one.”Derek Sahota, Chief Steward – Teaching Support Staff Union, Simon Fraser University

-“I worked as both a unionized research assistant and teaching assistant for a Professor at McGill University while I was an MA student there. He will be attending my wedding.” -Jonathon Booth, JD-PhD Student, Harvard University

CGEU 2017 in London, Ontario!!

CGEU Conference 2017 will be held in London, Ontario, to be hosted by our comrades from PSAC Local 610. See you next summer in London!

It has also been tentatively decided at this year’s conference that Vancouver, BC will host CGEU in 2018 and Madison, WI in 2019 – pending final approval by future conferences. Stay tuned!

CGEU Support for Demilitarizing and Disarming Campus Police Forces

CGEU Support for Demilitarizing and Disarming Campus Police Forces

Passed at CGEU 2015 in Amherst, MA – August 08, 2015

WHEREAS, University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, in cold blood, murdered Samuel Dubose, an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop, and the people of Cincinnati have taken to the streets to demand justice,

WHEREAS, the University of Cincinnati’s police force is emblematic of violent, racist, unaccountable campus police forces across the country which not only carry out crimes like the murder of Samuel Dubose, but also participate in the displacement of residents of university neighborhoods, residential racial segregation, the profiling of students of color, and the repression of student protest and labor organizing,

WHEREAS, campus police forces have inadequate accountability to the community where such accountability exists at all, and report only to university administrations,

WHEREAS, campus police forces often collude with municipal and county police forces in their racist policing tactics,

WHEREAS, campus police forces structurally impede the education and livelihood of people of color on college campuses, a clear contradiction of their supposed purpose of serving and protecting the campus community,

WHEREAS, funding and resources are being stripped away from student learning across higher education even as campus police forces acquire more weapons, equipment, and personnel,

WHEREAS, CGEU is committed to social justice and to campus environments where people of color are not under constant threat of violence and harassment, and is committed to supporting the Black liberation struggle,

WHEREAS, university police forces protect administrations rather than support students and workers, and weapons do not contribute to a collaborative, safe campus environment,

WHEREAS, unarmed public safety without arrest power could provide conflict de-escalation and resolution, restorative justice programs, safety escorts, and victim services and data, without also creating the oppressive and repressive apparatus of armed police forces,

BE IT RESOLVED, that, as an expression of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as a matter of workplace safety, and as a statement of solidarity with the communities that are too often under attacks of many forms from our institutions of higher education, the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions calls on all campus administrations to:

  1. Disarm campus police forces,
  2. Reduce campus police department budgets and allot those funds for academics, and recruitment and retention of Black students,
  3. Remove campus police from operations off of university property, including all public streets.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that all delegated representatives at the conference of the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions commit themselves to return home to their unions and mobilize these organizations in support of this call.


CGEU Conference Support for the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

CGEU Conference Support for the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Passed at CGEU 2015 in Amherst, MA – August 08, 2015

WHEREAS,​the United States is in the midst of a national crisis of police violence against people of color, and overwhelmingly black people, and this crisis is of epidemic proportions, now counting at least one black life taken by police or security forces every week across the country and with a total of 678 police killings since January 1, 2015 [1]​; and

WHEREAS,​police brutality against black people reaches into every corner of the United States, north and south, east and west, and affects every kind of person, young and old, trans or cisgender; and because these instances of police brutality continued unabated across the US and Canada, acts of protest, mobilization, and rebellion have resurged in a sustained way across the country, drawing on the legacy of the Black Freedom Struggle; and

WHEREAS,​the explosion of protest and rebellion last summer in Ferguson, MO served to shine a spotlight on the issue of police brutality and to arouse millions of people around the US, Canada, and around the world to action, and

WHEREAS, t​he labor movement, as the potential champion for the interests of the immense majority of our society, and as the most racially integrated movement in the US and Canada, has an obligation to support the aims and means of the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and

WHEREAS,​the progressive wing of the labor movement has a proud history of supporting the fight for racial justice and equality, dating back to the beginning of the 20th ​century but also through the 1950s and 1960s, when many of our parent unions supported the struggle against Jim Crow in the US South, and our support today would follow in these proud footsteps; and

WHEREAS,​police unions, in contrast to the progressive record of organized labor, have regularly sought to advance the militarization of the police and policies extending police impunity while defending individual officers who commit racist murders,

WHEREAS,​numerous unions and labor leaders like the United Federation of Teachers [2]​, the Teaching Assistants Association [3]​, ATU Local 689 [4], UFCW president Joe Hansen [5]​, and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka [6]​, among others, have already indicated their support for the movement and despite any and all of their shortcomings, we desire to further this support and transform it into action by our local unions and members in solidarity with local #BlackLivesMatter organizing; and

WHEREAS,​as delegates to the CGEU conference, we recognize that we are a self-selected group of union activists who are committed to the fight for social justice, and we aim to change the stance of our own International unions to one of robust and enthusiastic support and solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement;

BE IT RESOLVED,​that all delegated representatives at the conference of the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions commit themselves to return home to their unions and organizing committees and,

  1. Engage in a campaign to educate and win over their local memberships to support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement,
  2. Work within their own central labor councils, statewide bodies, and parent unions to win over affiliated bodies to give resources and material aid to #BlackLivesMatter organizations and actions, mobilize their union memberships for local campaigns, issuing public statements to formally put themselves on record in support of the movement, and preparing where necessary for the police union question,
  3. Recruit our unions to help support the development of international expressions of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that will continue to engage in organizing across the US and Canada.

1 h​ttp://killedbypolice.net

2 h​ttp://nypost.com/2014/08/16/teachers-union-backing-sharptons-planned-rally-against-police/
3 h​ttp://fox6now.com/2015/03/11/new-rally-planned-in-madison-police-shooting/
5 http://www.ufcw.org/2014/08/22/ufcw-president-hansen-statement-on-mother-of-michael-brown/

6 h​ttp://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/09/30/1333201/-We-Need-to-Talk-About-Ferguson#

CGEU 2015- UMass Amherst

The 2015 meeting of the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions will take place at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on August 5-8, 2015, and will be hosted by the Graduate Employee Union-UAW 2322. Click here to see the program & schedule.

If you have questions about the 2015 CGEU Conference please contact the planning committee at cgeu2015@geouaw.org

We are meeting at a critical moment for academic labor. Higher education – in form, content, and purpose – is on the precipice of a fundamental reorganization. On the other hand, the labor movement overall is weak, and attacks on unions, within the university and outside it, are deep and increasing. Yet the emerging resistance is inspiring, especially as it intersects with burgeoning movements in low-wage union organizing and ongoing struggles against police brutality and racism. On campuses from Québec to California, students and workers are organizing together and fighting back.

This summer, we invite student employee unions from across North America to three days of discussion, debate, and exchange. Meet union activists, share tactics and strategies, and help build the struggle for the future of academic labor and of the university.

To register for this year’s indispensable conference, please clickhere. Preregistration is now closed.  Walk-in registration will be available.  See the program & schedule here. 

If you have questions about the 2015 CGEU Conference please contact the organizing committee at cgeu2015@geouaw.org

Like CGEU on FB for more regular updates, here.

The Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions is a coalition of student-employee unions from universities across North America. Its annual meetings bring together union activists to share experiences, discuss and debate strategy and tactics, and build solidarity between and across campuses.


2014 CGEU Conference

The 2014 meeting of the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions will take place in Montréal, Québec from July 31 to August 2.

We are meeting at a critical moment for academic labour. Higher education – in form, content, and purpose – is on the precipice of a fundamental reorganization. On the other hand, the labour movement overall is weak, and attacks on unions, in the university and outside it, are deep and increasing. Yet the emerging resistance is inspiring. On campuses from Québec to California, students and workers are organizing together and fighting back.

This summer, we invite student employee unions from across North America to three days of discussion, debate, and exchange. Meet union activists, share tactics and strategies, and help build the struggle for the future of academic labour and of the university.

Please register at http://cgeucsee2014.wordpress.com/registration-inscription/. For more information, contact cgeu-csee-2014@agsem-aeedem.ca.

The Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions is a coalition of student-employee unions from universities across North America. Its annual meetings bring together union activists to share experiences, discuss and debate strategy and tactics, and build solidarity between and across campuses.


We are asking all individuals wishing to attend to fill out the registration form. Unions may send up to two voting delegates and as many additional delegates as they wish. The registration fee for voting delegates is $50. If your union is in a situation of financial difficulty and is unable to pay the fee, please contact us.


In addition to this year’s workshops and panels, we will be preparing a collection of essays, stories, and reflections to open the conversation leading up to the conference. These will be published online.

We will be holding workshops under the following themes (and we are still accepting workshop proposals and text submissions!):

    • How should academic labour unions approach the relationship between “being a student” and “being a worker”; What response should the labour movement take to broad attacks on unions and unionism (Right-to-work laws, anti-strike laws, injunctions, etc.); Union democracy and mobilization
    • Confirmed workshop topics: Mobilizing precarious workers ; Union democracy, internal and external
    • Responding to privatization; How should the University be organized; What is the role of labour unions in the future of higher education
    • Confirmed workshop topics: Online Courses ; Privatization and Commodification of Higher Education ; Organization of Work in the University
    • Strikes and pressure tactics; Bargaining; Building coalitions inside and outside the University
    • Confirmed workshop topics: The 2012 Québec student strike ; Critical history of Québec social movements ; Collective Agreement information exchange

Most workshops will take place in a panel format, with each presenter given 10-15 minutes, followed by an open discussion. If you are interested in presenting as part of a panel, please send a brief description of what you would like to talk about, as well as any resources you might need (eg. a projector or a whiteboard), to cgeu-csee-2014@agsem-aeedem.ca. If you would like to present a longer stand-alone workshop, please send a full proposal to the same address; while the final schedule has not been confirmed, expect each workshop to last about two hours, in total and including discussion.

All text submissions received will be published online, in this space. We welcome stories about personal experiences, successes and failures, opinion pieces and analyses; we also encourage group submissions. There is no word limit; however, it may not be possible to include all submissions, or exceptionally long submissions, should we eventually publish the texts in print. Submissions should be sent to cgeu-csee-2014@agsem-aeedem.ca and will be published as we receive them.