Like thousands of their peers across America, University of Chicago grad student workers are considering forming a union. Would a fine institution like the University of Chicago stoop to spreading embarrassingly transparent anti-union lies? But of course.
In three weeks, and over the formal objection of the university, about 2,500 grad students will vote on whether or not to unionize. Why might they want a union? For the same reason that tons of adjunct faculty members and fellow grad students at institutions from coast to coast want a union: Because they are the very lowest people on the totem pole in the world of higher education, and they are consequently getting screwed, and they are also well-educated enough to understand that unionizing will demonstrably improve their position, as it has at other elite universities. That’s all.
US News ranks the University of Chicago as the third-best school in the country. Presumably it is run by intelligent people. But not intelligent enough to make any honest arguments against its grad students unionizing. (An honest argument would be, “We fear that if you unionize we will have to give you more money and improve your working conditions in a way that could cost us money and lessen our degree of total control over you and your circumstances.”) Instead, the UC administration has dusted off Ye Olde Booke of Standard Scaremongering—and is presenting it to students in the form of a convenient website!
This site, hilariously dubbed “Know The Facts,” will, I hope, be preserved in an archive somewhere as proof of just how stupid institutions assume that workers are, after 40 years of declining union membership and Fox News. For example—and please keep in mind this is a product of one of the world’s finest universities—here is a selection from a section titled “Myths vs Facts.”
Union Claim: Having a union will not cost graduate students anything.
Fact: Each union member will likely be required to pay dues and initiation fees; this is the case under most union contracts in the U.S. At New York University, the United Auto Workers (UAW) charges each member of the bargaining unit 2% of total stipend and wages. With few exceptions, there is generally no opt-out provision for students who do not wish to be represented by a union.
This fails to mention that union contracts are also expected to win you MORE MONEY THAN YOU PAY IN DUES. (The University of Chicago is known for having a great economics department!)
Union Claim: GSU says it will negotiate better stipends, teaching remuneration, and healthcare coverage.
Fact: History at other universities indicates that promises made by unions during unionization campaigns often don’t materialize. GSU cannot guarantee better stipends, teaching remuneration, or improvements in any other facet of graduate education.
“..... because we, the people who made this website, will fight like hell not to give you any improvements, if we can help it, by god.”
Let’s check in on the “FAQ” section as well:
No one knows. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) requires employers and unions to bargain collectively with respect to “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment,” concepts the NLRB and the federal courts have interpreted broadly.
Benefits of a union? No one knows. However!
It will depend on what is included in the CBA and what is contained in the union’s bylaws. (It is important to take into account that a CBA governs only students’ activities in their capacities as TAs and RAs.)
Below are several examples of elements of your experience as a graduate student that could be affected:
Faculty may no longer be able to negotiate funding levels for research assistantships directly with students.
Rules could be implemented that dictate how TAs are selected. Faculty members could retain the right to suggest TAs for their classes, for example, or it could be that assistantships must be negotiated exclusively with the union, with the union deciding what it thinks is best for graduate students.
An external labor arbitrator could ultimately decide disputes that arise under the labor contract.
Union bylaws often contain provisions that provide for punishment, including fines for various infractions, such as coming to work during a strike.
Downsides of a union? Oh we can go on and on and on about those! How is it that such a brilliant university has absolutely no idea how a union might help these grad students but quite a few ideas about how a union might hurt them? Probably because the university itself will be the very institution do its utmost to ensure all of the downsides come to be during contract negotiations! This is, in other words, an informative website about Why Unions Can’t Help You from the very people who are trying to do everything in their power to see to it that the union doesn’t help you.
If you’re smart enough to get into the University of Chicago, you should be smart enough to understand this is bullshit.