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What is UMD Graduate Labor Union (GLU)?

We are a group of graduate workers who want to unionize in order to improve our research, teaching, and employment experience at the University of Maryland. Our work not only benefits UMD and the Maryland economy, but also has positive impacts worldwide. Graduate workers work in many different fields and have varied experiences, but our dedication to research and education unites us all.

By forming a union, UMD graduate workers are democratizing our workplace. A union will give us more rights and the power to make improvements at work, will legally protect our rights and policies, and will make transparent the terms and conditions of our employment.

Forming a union with the United Auto Workers (UAW) in particular means joining nearly 100,000 higher education employees who are already UAW members. With other academic unions across the country, graduate workers at UMD will have the political power to impact policy and funding decisions on the local, state, and federal levels.

Are Fellows included in UMD Graduate Labor Union?

Yes! Fellows do the same work as other graduate workers and are invited to sign union authorization cards. Fellows are included in many other graduate worker unions around the country.

Why create a union?

Forming a union with collective bargaining rights is the only way to have the power to negotiate with the UMD administration as equals and reach a legally binding contract. It also will strengthen the voice of researchers and teachers in an increasingly difficult political environment.

With collective bargaining, grad workers set our priorities and our agenda—and we elect fellow grad workers as representatives to negotiate on equal footing with UMD administrators for improvements such as salary increases, career development resources, parental leave, protections from harassment and discrimination, and much more. Additionally, we hope to gain more support and recognition for our research and teaching contributions commensurate with the billions of dollars in revenue UMD receives each year. 

Without collective bargaining, UMD has unilateral power to change conditions or decide whether to make improvements.

What improvements have graduate workers bargained for at other universities?

To name just a few gains, academic workers at other universities have successfully negotiated higher wages, better benefits, protections from harassment, discrimination, and abusive conduct, protections from unfair termination, greater support for dependent children, greater support for international employees, and more transparent workplace policies. Critically, these improvements are part of a legally binding contract, which makes them enforceable. See what other grad unions have won here.

What is the process of forming a union and bargaining a contract?

Will I have to pay dues?

Membership dues are important because they provide the resources necessary for effective representation. As part of the UAW, we would not pay dues until we have gone through the bargaining process and voted democratically to approve our first contract. Dues are critical for providing us with independent resources that are not controlled by the University: we use them to ensure we have appropriate legal, bargaining, community and staff support to represent all UMD graduate student workers. UAW membership dues are currently 1.44% of gross monthly income and can only be increased by membership action (the membership in a few local unions, for example, have voted to increase dues above 1.44% to have more resources). There is also a one-time initiation fee, which is determined democratically in local union bylaws approved by members.

The value of increased wages and benefits in the first contract typically outweighs the cost of dues, often leading to overwhelming majority approval of those agreements. For example, graduate student workers at Columbia won a minimum of a 6% increase for an after-dues minimum 12-month salary of $43,100 for the 2021/2022 academic year, plus guaranteed salary increases in subsequent years.

How is dues money allocated? What are dues used for?

Dues in UAW are 1.44% of gross income and no UMD graduate student worker will pay dues until after a contract has been democratically ratified. There is also a union initiation fee, which in other UAW student worker unions is $10 and paid one time upon each member’s initial sign-up. Union members, including UMD graduate student workers, democratically decide how union dues are spent. 

Local Union expenses throughout the year are approved by a democratically-elected Executive Board of student workers and the membership of the Local Union. Typically, Local Unions also draft and approve a budget at the start of each year. Trustees elected by Local Union membership also audit the union’s income and expenditures twice annually.

Most of the work of enforcing the contract and representing membership is financially supported by the Local Union. The Local Union receives 27% of its dues to support the following:

  • Educating new employees about their rights and the union
  • Contract negotiations
  • Advising members in difficult situations and supporting them through contract enforcement grievances
  • Events, including educational seminars on topics like visa and immigration rights, healthcare, and taxes
  • Advocacy for public policy that supports research and researchers
  • The Local Union may also receive an additional “rebate” if the Strike and Defense fund is over $500M. To get a sense of how local union dues are used in practice, we recommend reading “Dues in Action” from the Union of Academic Student Employees and Postdocs at UW. 

Another 26% of dues goes to the International Union’s General Fund, which provides technical support for contract negotiations and helps other workers successfully form unions (including UMD Graduate Labor Union). The remaining dues are allocated to the Strike and Defense Fund (44%) and Community Action Program (3%). Depending on the overall financial health of the Strike and Defense Fund (if the balance is $500M or greater), an additional allocation of dues called a “rebate” is given back to the Local and International Union. 

Some of the ways International Union dues will support UMD Graduate Labor Union members include:

  • Providing experienced negotiators, researchers, and legal help to aid UMD graduate student workers in achieving their goals at the bargaining table
  • Legal advice and advocacy to impact policy makers, especially those in Washington, DC. For example, in 2020 UAW joined an amicus brief that helped stop the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office from imposing a rule that would have prevented International Students from being enrolled in U.S. Universities that had switched to primarily remote learning.
  • Guidance on grievance and arbitrations. For example, UAW International aided UC Berkeley Teaching Assistants in winning millions of dollars in unpaid tuition remission.
  • Helping to win political support for our priorities as academic workers

In addition, dues help support new organizing campaigns. For example, the organizing staff and legal support for the UMD Graduate Labor Union campaign is paid by current UAW members’ dues. Also, union dues have gone towards legal and organizing resources that have have been key to major victories for academic workers including:

  • The landmark 2016 NLRB decision extending collective bargaining rights to Graduate Employees at private universities such as Penn, as well as the organizing resources that led to the subsequent representation election victory of Columbia University Graduate Employees.
  • The passage of California law SB 201, which was the culmination of a decades-long fight to extend collective bargaining rights to Student Researchers at UC.
  • A portion of dues money also goes to support political action, including legislative and other policy advocacy on issues that matter to UAW members. For example, UAW advocates strongly for fair, comprehensive immigration reform, which would include more visa access and an improved green card process, and expanded federal support for research funding, among other topics. [NOTE: Legally, dues money cannot be used for federal campaign contributions, such as the presidential race—that money comes from members’ voluntary contributions separate from, and in addition to, dues, in a program called VCAP (Voluntary Community Action Program)].
I’m paid off of a grant, where would money for raises come from?

Currently, UMD administration determines Research Assistant pay rates and benefits unilaterally, and those rates – as well as projected increases – are factored into grant proposals to agencies like NIH, NSF, DOD, etc. With collective bargaining, we would negotiate as equals with UMD for improvements to our pay rates which would continue to be factored into grant proposals. Student Researchers at UMASS and the University of Washington, as well as Postdocs at the University of California, have negotiated guaranteed annual increases to their pay rates through collective bargaining, while the headcount of unionized researchers at each of these campuses has continued to rise.

Can a union guarantee any specific improvements?

Graduate workers make up our union and will democratically prioritize which improvements to pursue in contract negotiations. With a union, graduate workers will negotiate as equals with the administration for the changes we want to make.

A contract will legally secure those improvements against unilateral changes by the administration. Currently, the administration can change policies and benefits unilaterally, without any obligation to consult those affected. With a union, we will vote on our contract. If we are unsatisfied with a contract, we can vote against it and go back to the negotiating table to work out a better agreement.

How is this different from Grad Student Government or the Graduate Assistant Advisory Committee?

The Graduate Student Government and Graduate Assistant Advisory Committee do not give us an equal voice in the issues which affect us. Many of the graduate students who launched this union campaign have participated in these bodies and been disappointed in the university’s lack of responsiveness to the issues grad workers have brought to these meetings. By forming a union, we can negotiate a binding contract with enforceable rights.

Do we have the right to form a union?

Right now, state law in Maryland does not require the university to recognize our union and bargain collectively with us. Bills to expand that right to us have been introduced several times in the past and failed due to the University System of Maryland’s opposition. By demonstrating supermajority support among grad workers for unionizing, we will have more leverage when this legislation is re-introduced in 2024.

Many other groups of grad workers have been able to get laws changed to extend to them the right to collective bargaining after starting union campaigns, including University of Washington, University of California, University of Connecticut, and Columbia University.

Why and how do I sign an authorization card?

UMD graduate student workers are asking colleagues to sign union authorization cards. These say that graduate student workers want the union we are forming — UMD Graduate Labor Union — to represent graduate student workers in collective bargaining with UMD Administration.

We don’t currently have the right to collective bargaining. A law has been introduced to grant us this right every year for many years, and it has repeatedly failed due to opposition from the University System of Maryland. By a supermajority of graduate workers signing authorization cards, we can show the University and Maryland legislators that we are ready to bargain and create greater pressure to get the law passed.

Ready to sign a union authorization card? Click here to sign a card.

Why did graduate workers at UMD choose to organize with UAW?

In the Summer of 2023, graduate workers involved in organizing at UMD  voted to seek affiliation with the UAW. The UAW is the union with the largest number of graduate student workers in the US, and has a history of successfully expanding collective bargaining rights in the academic sector. Furthermore, the tens of thousands of student workers who have unionized with the UAW and won contracts for their workplaces demonstrate a proven track record of success.

UAW is the International Union of United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). UAW has historically been one of the largest and most diverse unions in North America. In recent decades, 100,000 employees in higher education have joined UAW, making it the single largest union of higher ed academic employees in the US. Academic employees from the University of California, Harvard, UConn, Columbia, University of Washington, and many other universities have found that joining UAW has allowed them to democratically determine priorities as a workforce and dramatically increase power to win improved rights and benefits through collective bargaining.

Will forming a union cause UMD to cut pay or benefits?

Once a union is formed, UMD cannot unilaterally alter any terms and conditions of employment—including pay and benefits. For example, UMD administration could not reduce our health care benefits after we file for a union unless student workers agree to such a reduction.

Because Maryland law requires employers to bargain in good faith with unions certified to represent their workers, changes to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining, through which we, as unionized student workers, will have the power to negotiate with UMD administrators as equals and democratically approve an enforceable contract.

Can departments voluntarily pay above negotiated rates?

With a union, UMD student workers will decide what kinds of salary protections and/or increases to bargain for. For example, in the case of UAW 4121 (the Union of Academic Student Employees and Postdocs at University of Washington), the contract sets a base rate for Research Assistants, and departments are free to set wages at a higher rate. For UAW 5810, the contract for Postdocs at UC sets minimum salary levels and explicitly states that “nothing shall preclude the University from providing compensation to Postdoctoral Scholars at rates above those required.” 

No union for academic employees has bargained a contract that requires all union members to make the same wages.

Instead, changes to terms and conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining, through which we, as unionized student workers, will have the power to negotiate with UMD administrators as equals and democratically approve an enforceable contract.

Will having a union mean I’m only allowed to work a certain number of hours?

We, as student workers, will democratically decide on the terms of employment that most benefit our ability to perform teaching and research at a high level. Recent contracts negotiated by other UAW academic unions have emphasized protections against excessive workload that nonetheless retain flexibility. For example:

The contract for Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants at the University of Washington protects against excessive workload by setting an hourly limit to the amount of work that may be assigned, but allows work assignments for Research Assistants to exceed their hourly limit if that work contributes to their dissertation project. UC Postdocs chose not to bargain for an hourly limit to their workload. Instead, the contract for Postdocs at UC protects against excessive, unnecessary workload by stating “work schedules must be reasonable, and related to research needs.”

It will be up to us to democratically decide what will work at UMD, fully taking into consideration the many contexts in which we all work. Furthermore, such standards do not have to be universal across the university. It will be up to student workers to decide together what will make the most sense for us.

No union for academic employees has bargained a contract that requires all union members to make the same wages.

Instead, changes to terms and conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining, through which we, as unionized student workers, will have the power to negotiate with UMD administrators as equals and democratically approve an enforceable contract.

Does UMD administration oppose graduate workers forming a union?

UMD administration has testified against bills seeking to grant us collective bargaining rights in past legislative sessions. By organizing for supermajority support, we can have the power to assert our right to unionize.

How does UAW ensure accountability and transparency at the International level?

Active member participation at all levels of the organization ensures transparency and elected leadership accountability. Local Unions elect members to serve as delegates to the International Convention to elect national and regional leadership, and set union policy. Additional, Community and Political Action Committee meetings and conferences are held on a regular basis to involve members in making major organizational decisions. 

Additionally, each UAW Local Union must audit its books every 6 months, and is audited by the International UAW every 3 years, and there is an outside, independent audit of the International UAW on an annual basis. 

Every union decision is appealable by members to the Public Review Board, which is composed of individuals independent of UAW, or to the Convention Appeals Committee, which is composed of members chosen at random from among the delegates elected to the previous convention.

Why would a union make sense for a professional environment like ours?

Forming a union with your colleagues is about having a say in how your workplace is run, something that people in all jobs need. There are a lot of unions of professional workers, including researchers at many universities. In the University of California system alone, there are 11,000 unionized Postdocs, Postbacs, and staff researchers in UAW 5810, 20,000 unionized teaching assistants and student employees in UAW 2865, and 17,000 unionized student researchers in Student Researchers United-UAW.

How does having a union work when it’s common for graduate workers to be at UMD for short periods of just 2 to 6 years?

Most people change institutions several times during their academic career. The transitory nature of our jobs makes it easier for our employers to mistreat us, making it even more important for us to organize. We’re part of a broader academic labor movement, and every academic workplace that organizes makes academic careers better.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process, protected by the law, that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, UMD graduate workers elect peer representatives to negotiate as equals with the UMD management. These negotiations result in a proposed contract called a tentative agreement which guarantees the terms and conditions of employment for graduate workers. All graduate workers will then have a vote in democratically approving the tentative agreement. If approved, the tentative agreement becomes a legally-binding contract.

Through collective bargaining, graduate workers at other institutions have negotiated improvements in their wages, benefits, job security, leaves, protections against harassment and discrimination, and many other terms and conditions of their employment. Without collective bargaining, UMD has unilateral power to change our working conditions.

Will signing authorization cards or organizing for a union (such as attending rallies or meetings) threaten my visa status or future visa / green card applications in any way?

Since international students in the U.S. have the same legal rights to participate in unions as U.S. citizens, signing an authorization card should not jeopardize or delay application for legal permanent residence. Authorization cards that get submitted to the Maryland public employee labor board are not released to UMD or other government agencies. Thousands of graduate workers and other academic workers have signed union authorization cards in large unionization drives across the country since 2008, without any reported instance of delay or rejection of applications as a result of signing a card or otherwise participating in a unionization effort. If you have any questions about your particular situation, please email for additional resources.

Can my employer/advisor/Principal Investigator retaliate against me for participating in unionizing?

We all have a legal right to organize for better working conditions with our colleagues. You cannot legally be retaliated against in any way by your PI or by UMD management. We also have safety in numbers, if a majority of graduate workers support the union, we can’t be singled out as individuals.

Will being a part of unionizing affect my job applications in the future?

Hundreds of thousands of academic workers have been union members, and you can find these people working today in industry, non-profits, government, and faculty positions.

Will a union advocate for and prioritize the needs of international students and/or undocumented students?

International students have been central to the leadership and goals of student worker unions around the country. Once we form a union, we will be able to negotiate with UMD over the workplace issues that affect international and undocumented students.

Will I be able to participate in the union effort if I’m a graduate student at UMD but not employed as a Graduate Assistant?

All graduate students are welcome to participate in our campaign to form a union. When we negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, graduate students will be covered by that agreement in the semesters where they are employed by the university or working as Fellows.

Will I be able to sign a union authorization card if I am an undergraduate employee?

Right now we are signing cards for a union of graduate workers. However, undergraduate workers having greater rights in their workplace is very important as well! If you reach out, we can try to connect you to other undergraduate workers who want to organize.

Will being part of a union affect my taxes? My student status allows me to apply certain deductions as a result of tax treaties with my home country.

No. Unionized graduate workers at other universities in the U.S. are able to participate in tax treaties.