Sharing Union Responses to COVID-19

Solidarity between graduate employee unions is more important than ever as we all face the COVID-19 pandemic, and what this means for the continuation and evolution of our labor movement. We, the CGEU, call on our member unions to share any of their impact bargaining strategies and/or contract wins during this time so that we all may learn from each other as we struggle through very similar challenges. We want to hear:

▪ What workplace safety protections and accommodations have your members been able to win?
▪ Has your administration taken advantage of this crisis to oppress graduate students, how have you fought back?
▪ What strategies has your union used to put pressure on the administration during quarantine?
▪ If your union is on strike, how are you maintaining momentum?
▪ How are you bargaining with your administration when everything has moved online?
▪ Have you been successful through impact bargaining around COVID-19?

If you would like to share stories or strategies for how your union is fighting through the COVID-19 crisis, please send them to and we will disseminate so that as many graduate labor unions as possible may see what their comrades are doing to rise above the chaos.

Please find a list of resources we have started compiling here. We hope these resources can be helpful for unions looking to craft their own petitions and/or letters to the administration.

CGEU Refoundation – June 6, 2020

In August 2019 in Toronto, CGEU delegates passed a resolution (“Toronto Proposal for CGEU Refoundation”) which included provisionally adopting constitutional amendments, and forming a Coordinating Committee tasked with: (1) investigating the logistical and legal conditions necessary to implement the provisionally adopted amendments; (2) proposing additional amendments as necessary and (3) proposing guidelines for sound financial practices.

En août 2019 à Toronto, les délégués du CSEE ont adopté une résolution comprenant l’adoption provisoire d’amendements constitutionnels et la formation d’un comité de coordination chargé de: (1) enquêter sur les conditions logistiques et juridiques nécessaires à la mise en œuvre des amendements provisoirement adoptés; (2) proposer des modifications supplémentaires si nécessaire et (3) proposer des lignes directrices pour de saines pratiques financières.

This proposal is our committee’s best attempt to reconcile the stated preferences of the member unions.

Cette proposition est la meilleure tentative du comité afin de réconcilier les préférences déclarées des syndicats membres.

To discuss the proposal, please comment on the document or join the discussion in slack.  

Pour discuter de la proposition, veuillez commenter le document ou vous joindre à la discussion sur la plateforme Slack. 

The meeting on the proposal will be held online on June 6-7, 2020. Registration is open now

Postponing April & May meetings

After consulting with Member Unions, the CGEU is postponing the Constitutional Convention (originally scheduled for April 4-5 in Toronto). The Constitutional Convention will be held the weekend of June 6-7 and will be an online meeting. Registration is open here.

As well, at this time the Annual Congress, originally scheduled for the weekend of May 29 hosted by UIUC-GEO, is cancelled indefinitely. Please note that we plan to hold the business meeting later this summer (likely online), per our constitutional requirement. We will be back in touch about this.

CGEU 2019 is coming to Toronto!

CGEU 2019: Building Solidarity Across Movements comes at a time of growing resistance to austerity measures across North America. Student and labour movements are confronting major cuts to post-secondary education, public services, as well as a number of important social welfare programs. Now more than ever we are seeing an increase in social movement work and collaborative projects from student, labour and grassroots organizers as people from all walks of life mobilize to resist austerity measures.

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CGEU 2018 heads to New York. Register today!

Calling all Grad Unionists! CGEU/CSEE’s annual conference will be held from August 16-19 in New York City. Learn more about the conference, check out a tentative schedule, and most importantly, REGISTER for CGEU 2018 TODAY!

This year, CGEU-2018: Raising the Stakes (NYC) comes at a time of increased uncertainty, met with a new upsurge of militancy in education-sector organizing across North America. CUPE locals are striking at York and Carleton Universities. The Trump-era Supreme Court means that the decision on Janus vs. AFSCME could decimate our public sector unions if we don’t build power fast. Trump’s NLRB has also meant several academic unions have pulled their union petitions as part of a broader legal strategy. Rank-and-file strength is needed now more than ever.

It is time we gather to regroup, and to build bonds, knowledge, and solidarity within and among campuses across the U.S. and Canada—to Raise the Stakes for a more militant grad worker movement in 2018 and beyond.
Part conference, part workshop/skills share, part popular education, part strategy session, CGEU-2018 NYC will rejuvenate and inspire our movement between campuses and across borders. We will take advantage of proximity to local labor leaders, left publishing houses, and the density of institutions of higher education to feature inspiring panels and time and space for socializing with comrades at night.

Members from GSOC-UAW (NYU), SENS-UAW (New School), GWC-UAW (Columbia), and the PSC (CUNY) are proud to jointly organize the 2018 CGEU/CSEE conference in New York City. If you or your union would like to join in hosting, please reach out:

Register for CGEU 2017!!!

Registration for CGEU 2017 in London, Ontario is open!!! It will be hosted by our comrades from PSAC Local 610 at the University of Western Ontario, on August 10-13. REGISTER NOW!


CGEU/CSEE is an annual meeting of North American graduate employees.

CGEU/CSEE 2017 takes place at a time of increased uncertainty for graduate workers and students generally. The conjunction of Trump in the White House, an increasingly retrograde Conservative Party in Canada and ongoing financial restructuring of universities with consequent budget cuts to many departments means that it is more important than ever for graduate workers from across the continent to get together and discuss the issues common to us.​

PSAC Local 610 is pleased to host the 2017 CGEU/CSEE conference at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

Join us for a stimulating weekend of presentations, panels and social events.

La CGEU/CSEE est une réunion annuelle des syndicats étudiants de l’Amérique du Nord.

CGEU/CSEE 2017 aura lieu dans une période d’incertitude croissant pour les employé-es étudiant-es et pour les étudiant-es plus largement. La conjoncture politique – l’élection de Donald Trump à la Maison Blanche, un Parti conservateur canadien de plus en plus rétrograde, la restructuration financière continue des universités et les coupures budgétaires y impliquées – fait en sorte qu’il est plus important que jamais pour les employé-es étudiant-es à travers le continent de se réunir et de débattre nos enjeux communs.

La section locale 610 de l’AFPC est heureuse d’annoncer la tenue du congrès 2017 de la CGEU/CSEE (Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions/ Coalition des syndicats d’employé-es étudiant-es) à l’University of Western Ontario (UWO) à London, Ontario, Canada.

​Venez nous joindre à London, Ontario du 10 au 13 août, 2017, pour une fin de semaine de conférences, ateliers et évènements sociaux avec des employé-es étudiant-es provenant de toute l’Amérique du Nord.

Grad Labor Movement stands in solidarity with Standing Rock

This summer, the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions (CGEU) made a strong commitment to the struggles for climate justice. Following our resolution, numerous grad unions across the continent have taken a clear stance in solidarity with the protesters at Standing Rock, seeking to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that will have devastating consequences for our environment and climate, and particularly for the indigenous communities. Many of our unions have also strongly rejected and denounced AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s support of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In our opposition to the DAPL, we join many unions, including the National Nurses United (NNU), the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the SEIU. (for further analysis of various unions’ positions in the struggles at Standing Rock, see the article by grad union comrade Trish Kahle at the GSU – University of Chicago.)

The grad unions that have stood in solidarity with Standing Rock so far include GSOC (NYU), GSU (University of Chicago), UAW 2322 (includes GEO at UMass Amherst), GEO (Ann Arbor), TAA (UW Madison), GEO (Urbana-Champaign), GEO (UIC), GEU/UAW 6950 (UConn), UAW 2865 (University of California), UAW 4123 (California State University),  and CUPE 3906 (McMaster University) – see our resolutions below. Water is life, no job on the dead planet! #NoDAPL


GSOC, New York University and GSU, the University of Chicago: “[we] call on the labor movement to support a just transition to a renewable energy economy and investment in the construction of a nationwide sustainable energy infrastructure that will address the growing threat of climate change and its consequent droughts, floods, fires, crop failures, species extinctions, and other dire consequences of global climate change, and furthermore urges the AFL-CIO and LiUNA to reverse their condemnable and falsely defended statements in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

UAW 2322, which includes GEO, University of Massachusetts-Amherst: “the AFL-CIO has taken a dangerous position in supporting policies that replicate the false notion that we must choose between jobs and the health of our planet, selves, families, and communities and stands with big business over the long-term interests of the global working class… [we] support the rights of our unionized and non-unionized comrades whose jobs are related to the pipeline to work in safe environments at jobs that are consistent with respect for the environment and the rights and safety of frontline communities.”

GEO, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor: “The environmental and public health costs of oil pipelines are well established. American capitalism has a long history of offloading those costs, like its other environmental costs, on people of color and particularly on Indigenous nations. We do not believe that continuing this harmful and unjust practice will sustainably advance workers’ rights and interests.”

GEU/UAW 6950, University of Connecticut: “scientists have warned that in order to avoid wide-scale, catastrophic climate disruption, the vast majority of known remaining fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground.”

TAA, University of Wisconsin-Madison: “the AFL-CIO leadership has shamefully put forward a statement against our Indigenous sisters and brothers and in support of the continued construction of DAPL, and is currently facing widespread calls from constituent unions to retract this position but has not yet done so… organized labor has a responsibility to stand against injustice and in solidarity with oppressed people everywhere, in line with the principle of ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.”

GEO, University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign: “the extraction of fossil fuels, from Bakken oil in North Dakota to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in upstate New York, is leaving behind vast expanses of dead land and dead water around the globe. It is critical that we step outside our narrow interests and ask: Who will have jobs in a dead planet? In terms of fundamental needs, what is more important than clean water? As the land and water protectors of Sacred Stone camp say, “Water is Life”… The labor movement must stand in solidarity with Native struggle against extraction (and contamination) that disproportionately impacts the disenfranchised and the marginalized. We call on AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to rescind his appalling statement, and to instead stand in solidarity with the Indigenous-led movement against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

GEO, University of Illinois-Chicago: “UIC-GEO recognizes that the history of the United States is checkered, and our nation owes its success to the subjugation, genocide, and general disregard for Indigenous lives and nations. This systemic, oppressive history is rearing its ugly head with the construction of DAPL… While the DAPL might provide temporary jobs, UIC-GEO protests against these jobs. Unionism is about lifting up all of our members and respecting all communities. Job creation that is not paired with justice, empathy, respect, and sustainability is not the type of job creation that unions should promote.”

UAW 2865, University of California campuses: “The AFL-CIO’s endorsement of the pipeline represents a dangerous precedent: support for employing private security firms to attack protesters; using eminent domain to acquire farmland for private corporate benefit; and endorsing the violence of white supremacist, capitalist, settler colonial tactics in the service of toxic industries. Advocating for short-term union jobs at the cost of long-term worker exploitation while violating Indigenous rights and irrevocably damaging the environment is not in workers’ best interests.”

UAW 4123, California State University: “we see the Indigenous rights, environmental degradation, and exploitation as intertwined… we endorse the coordinated efforts rallying against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and we encourage others to join us in support of these brave and resilient protests.”

CUPE 3906 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario also passed a resolution in solidarity with the Standing Rock protesters!






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!