Graduate Student Workers Union - Frequently Asked Questions

During an election held November 2-3, 2022, a process overseen and conducted by Region 1 of the National Labor Relations Board, the majority of graduate student workers who voted elected to form a union—the WPI Graduate Workers Union, affiliated with and exclusively represented by the United Auto Workers.

WPI values our graduate student workers and their many contributions to WPI and is working collaboratively with the Graduate Workers Union in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

Union Information and Collective Bargaining

Will all graduate student workers have to join the union and pay union dues?

That is most often the case and will ultimately be determined through the collective bargaining process; unions usually seek a “closed shop” which means that all graduate workers who are eligible to join the union do so and pay union dues or make payments in lieu of dues.

Now that there is a Graduate Workers Union, what role will the Graduate Student Government (GSG) play in representing the needs of graduate students?

WPI can continue to recognize and work with the GSG on matters that are important to graduate students but cannot work with the GSG on matters related to wages, hours and working conditions of graduate students who are members of the Graduate Worker Union unless authorized by the union. 

What does collective bargaining involve?

Under the National Labor Relations Act, once a union is certified, both sides are obligated to negotiate in good faith to reach agreement on the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement.  

Representatives of WPI and the Graduate Workers Union are meeting regularly to negotiate an agreement that covers all mandatory subjects of bargaining under the law.  

How long does collective bargaining take?

Negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement can take a while since the parties, WPI and the Graduate Workers Union, are establishing contract terms from scratch – and collective bargaining agreements cover many topics pertaining to the wages, hours and working conditions of union members. Usually, while negotiations are underway, wages and benefits, as well as other terms and conditions of employment remain the same.

What types of issues may be discussed at the bargaining table?

Not all issues are subject to bargaining. The law requires bargaining over “wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment,” which include, for example:

  • Compensation and benefits
  • Hours of work
  • Work duties and assignments
  • Employment discipline and discharge
  • Grievance procedures
What types of issues are not mandatory, or required, subjects of bargaining to be discussed at the bargaining table?

Many issues of potential interest to graduate workers are not mandatory subjects of bargaining, meaning if one side or the other does not wish to discuss such a topic, there is no legal obligation to do so.  Examples of subjects that would likely be considered “non-mandatory” include:

  • Hiring processes
  • Academic issues, such as academic performance, curriculum components, or course and degree requirements 
What types of issues cannot be discussed at the bargaining table?

Illegal subjects are those that cannot be legally bargained over by either party. They are subjects that would violate a law, and therefore cannot be entered into legally in a collective bargaining agreement, even if both parties agree to do so.

Examples of subjects that would likely be considered “illegal” include:

  • Changes to immigration policies and procedures that may be in conflict with federal law*
  • Changes to federal or state laws or regulations.

Federal laws and regulations limit the number of hours certain international students can work. Even if the university and the union both wanted to increase those hours, they would be unable to do so. Similarly, there are rules pertaining to international remote work that cannot be modified in a collective bargaining agreement.

Does unionization prevent discussions and resolutions on an informal basis?

It would depend on the collective bargaining agreement, but it is common for such agreements to identify informal processes for resolution. There will never be a time when university leaders won’t talk with students about their concerns; however, the union is the official bargaining agent for negotiations regarding such topics as wages, work hours, and working conditions.

If I don’t like the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, will I be able to negotiate a different arrangement with my faculty advisor or WPI?

No, the collective bargaining agreement is binding on all members who are covered in the bargaining unit. 

Can my faculty advisor work out different terms with me based on my own individual needs?

No, your faculty advisor would not be able to agree to terms that are not in accord with the contract.