<p>Visit the <a href="https://www.georgetown.edu/operating-status">operating status page</a> for information on the university's current operating status.</p>
View of stained glass with the Georgetown University seal

Frequently Asked Questions on Graduate Student Unionization

Updated August 17, 2018

OVERVIEW

UNIONIZATION PROCESS

ELECTION PROCESS

POTENTIAL IMPACT OF UNIONIZATION

GRADUATE STUDENT LIFE AT GEORGETOWN

GRADUATE STUDENT UNIONIZATION EFFORTS AT OTHER INSTITUTIONS


OVERVIEW

What is the latest on graduate student unionization efforts at Georgetown?

On April 2, 2018, the University reached an agreement with the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE), a group of graduate students affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which allows for an election among eligible graduate students on whether they wish to be represented by a union.

In responding to the students’ request, Georgetown reached an agreement for a voluntary election that would be held and overseen by a neutral third party, rather than pursuing an election under the traditional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process. That means that a union formed by an election held at Georgetown - should one take place - would remain even if the NLRB overturns its decision on the eligibility of graduate students to unionize. The agreement creates a framework recognizing that graduate students’ relationship with the University is fundamentally an educational one, while also responding to their desire to have a stronger voice in the terms of their service as Graduate Student Assistants.

Who would be eligible to vote in the union and be represented under GAGE’s proposed collective bargaining unit?

Georgetown estimates that approximately 800 students would be eligible under GAGE’s proposed collective bargaining unit, 85 percent of whom are doctoral students. The bargaining unit proposed by GAGE would consist of students enrolled in Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences graduate degree programs (Ph.D. and Master’s) who also hold service titles as Ph.D. Research Assistants, Ph.D. Teaching Assistants, Ph.D. Teaching Associates, Graduate Research Assistants, Graduate Teaching Assistants, Student Research Assistants, and Student Teaching Assistants (collectively, these positions are referred to as “Graduate Student Assistants”).  This includes those in graduate programs in Georgetown College, the School of Foreign Service, the McCourt School of Public Policy, the Medical Center (except for M.D. students), and the McDonough School of Business.

What is the Just Employment Policy and does Georgetown support unions and allow employees to freely associate and organize?

We are deeply committed to our Just Employment Policy, which provides fair and competitive compensation packages for University employees and full-time contract workers on campus and affirms employees’ right to freely associate and organize. Six unions operate on Georgetown’s campus, representing employees ranging from Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD) officers to adjunct faculty members and facilities workers.

Under Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy, all full-time employees must be paid a minimum total compensation of $16.77 per hour. The 2018-2019 Academic Year stipend for graduate student assistants is $29,000 for 15 hours per week of service over 32 weeks in the academic year (16 weeks per semester). This totals 480 hours at $60.42 per hour. In addition, doctoral students receive full tuition remission, and Georgetown covers the costs of doctoral students’ enrollment in the University’s Premier Student Health Insurance plan.

Why did Georgetown reach a voluntary agreement with GAGE to  allow graduate students to hold an election?

Georgetown values its graduate students as important members of our academic community and believes they should have a say in their experience as graduate student assistants.

Georgetown is committed to listening to its students and responding to their concerns. Regardless of the election outcome, Georgetown will continue to enhance the resources provided to graduate students. After significant dialogue with students about health insurance, for example, we made improvements to the 2018-2019 plan. The improvements will result in most students paying 50 percent less for covered treatment at in-network providers, while also reducing the cap on out-of-pocket costs to $5,000 for the plan year (down from $6,350 last year). In the past seven years, the Graduate School has significantly increased doctoral stipends and support for students, while making improvements to graduate student life.

Georgetown will continue its efforts to improve conditions for graduate students if a union is not elected and will bargain in good faith if one is elected.

UNIONIZATION PROCESS

What is a union?

A union is an organization that represents a specific group of employees (or “bargaining unit”) for purposes of collective bargaining. On behalf of its bargaining unit, a union negotiates a contract (or “collective bargaining agreement”) that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for those employees within the bargaining unit. A union also represents members of the bargaining unit when disputes arise between members and their employer.

Are any Georgetown employees represented by unions?

Georgetown has a long history of working collaboratively with unions representing its employees. 1199SEIU has represented Georgetown’s facilities employees for decades. Georgetown University police officers have similarly been represented by a union for decades and are currently represented by LEOSU-DC. More recently, Main Campus adjuncts voted for representation by SEIU Local 500. All of Georgetown’s unions were selected through an election process administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

What is a private election agreement?

A private election agreement is a voluntary agreement that sets out the terms under which an election for a union shall be conducted. A private election agreement is administered by a third party such as the American Arbitration Association, rather than by the National Labor Relations Board.

What is the difference between an election ordered by the NLRB and a private election agreement?

A private election agreement is administered by a third party, such as the American Arbitration Association, rather than by the NLRB. The NLRB is a federal agency created to enforce the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA is a federal law originally passed in 1935 to protect the rights of employees and employers by, among other things, safeguarding employees’ rights to choose whether to be represented by a union. The process under a private election agreement is similar to the process in an election conducted by the NLRB, but the functions performed by the NLRB are instead performed by a neutral arbitrator guided by the terms included in the election agreement.

What is the American Arbitration Association?

The American Arbitration Association (AAA) is a not-for-profit organization that provides alternative dispute resolution services outside of the court system.

Has AAA administered other graduate student union elections?

Cornell University and Brown University entered into agreements for a graduate student union election administered by the AAA.

Has Georgetown recognized a union without an election based on a majority of potential members signing authorization forms or cards?

No. All of Georgetown’s unions were selected through NLRB elections, which provide for a secret ballot and strict procedures to ensure that there is no employer or union coercion of voters.

If a union is elected, what matters are subject to negotiation?

Under the election agreement, matters subject to negotiation include service hours, stipend levels, benefits, procedures for service-related grievances, and the impact of various academic decisions on commitments set forth in existing award letters or expected hours per week for graduate student assistants after a course assignment has been made.

Academic matters such as decisions relating to admissions, organization of departments/units/programs/courses, curriculum and degree components and requirements, academic decisions relating to Graduate Student Assistant appointments, establishment of University policies and related adjudication processes and sanctions, and resolution of academic disputes between faculty and students are not subject to bargaining.

Who would be covered by GAGE’s proposed bargaining unit?

This proposed bargaining unit would consist of students enrolled in Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences graduate degree programs (Ph.D. and Master’s) and who also hold service titles as Ph.D. Research Assistants, Ph.D. Teaching Assistants, Ph.D. Teaching Associates, Graduate Research Assistants, Graduate Teaching Assistants, Student Research Assistants, and Student Teaching Assistants (collectively, these positions are referred to as “Graduate Student Assistants”). This includes those in graduate programs in Georgetown College, the School of Foreign Service, the McCourt School of Public Policy, the Medical Center (except for M.D. students), and the McDonough School of Business.

ELECTION PROCESS

How would an election process work and what is the timeline?

The election process is set out in detail in the election agreement. The election would be held on multiple dates, at multiple times and locations on campus. Once those specific dates, times and locations have been determined, election notices will be distributed to all eligible Graduate Student Assistants via their University email addresses. If an eligible Graduate Student Assistant is unable to be on campus on those dates and times due to a University, School, or department-approved program or activity, s/he can request an absentee ballot from AAA within seven days after the election notice is distributed.

Who would be eligible to vote in the election?

Any graduate student who is serving as a Graduate Student Assistant (as defined above) during the semester in which the election takes place, or who served in such a position in the prior two semesters and who continues to be actively enrolled in Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences graduate degree programs.

How many eligible voters would it take to form a union?

GAGE must provide the AAA with authorization cards from 30 percent of eligible voters in order to trigger the election procedure. However, the election will be determined by a majority of those who actually vote (not a majority of those who are eligible to vote).

Who decides which union would represent graduate assistants?

The choice of whether to be represented by GAGE/AFT will be determined by a majority of the eligible Graduate Student Assistants who actually vote in the election. There will not be another union on the ballot. All eligible Graduate Student Assistants will be bound by the choice made by a majority of those who vote in the election. If a majority of those who vote choose GAGE/AFT, then GAGE/AFT will become the collective bargaining representative of all Graduate Student Assistants in the bargaining unit. If a majority of those who vote choose not to be represented by GAGE/AFT, then GAGE/AFT would not be the collective bargaining representative of any Graduate Student Assistants.

What if I was a teaching assistant the semester prior to the election, but I’m on a fellowship for the semester in which the election is held. Can I vote?

Yes, any Graduate Student Assistant who is serving in a position that is included in the unit described above during the semester in which the election takes place or who served in such a position in the prior two semesters and who continues to be actively enrolled in Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences graduate degree programs is eligible to vote. A “semester” is defined as either the fall or spring semester and does not include the summer.

Can I see the proposed contract, including the list of terms and conditions of employment, before I vote?

The election agreement, which includes items that are and are not subject to negotiation in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), can be found here. The CBA will only be negotiated if and when Graduate Student Assistants vote to have the union represent them.

If a graduate student does not want to be represented by a union, could the student opt out?

No. If a majority of voters approve the formation of a graduate student union, all graduate students enrolled in Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences graduate degree programs (Ph.D. and Masters) and who are serving as Graduate Student Assistants will be represented by the union and be expected to pay union dues. GAGE has said that, if Graduate Student Assistants vote to have a union and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, they can expect to pay dues of around one to two percent of their annual salaries.

If I object to a specific provision in the labor contract, am I still bound by it?

If a majority of Graduate Student Assistants vote to have GAGE/AFT represent them and GAGE/AFT negotiates a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with Georgetown, all Graduate Student Assistants in the bargaining unit will be represented by GAGE/AFT and bound by the terms of the CBA, even if they object to it.  

Once a vote has taken place, either in favor of or against unionization, can another election be held at a later date to revisit the issue?

Yes, another election can be held at a later date. If there is a vote in favor of unionization, then the University will immediately grant recognition to the Union as the exclusive bargaining representative for eligible Graduate Student Assistants, and such recognition shall continue until the Union is decertified in a decertification election, as described in the Election Agreement. If there is a vote against unionization, then there will not be another election until a minimum of 12 months have passed following the date of the first election.

What would happen if the union is not elected?

If a majority of voters vote against the union, GAGE/AFT would not become the union representative of the proposed bargaining unit.

POTENTIAL IMPACT OF UNIONIZATION

If elected, who would the union represent?

If GAGE/AFT is elected by a majority of voters, the union would represent all Graduate Student Assistants within the bargaining unit, including those who voted against the union or those who did not vote. Graduate students who are not included in the bargaining unit would not be represented by the union.

If the union is elected, who would have to pay union dues?

It is typical for all members of the bargaining unit to be required to pay dues or analogous fees to the union, regardless of whether they voted for or against unionization or did not vote at all. Questions regarding dues or other fees should be directed to GAGE/AFT.

How much are union dues and how do students pay them?

Questions regarding dues or other fees should be directed to GAGE/AFT. Typically, if a union is elected and a CBA is negotiated, all members of the bargaining unit will be required to pay dues or fees to the union, even if they did not vote in the election or voted against the union.

What would be the effect of union representation on graduate student stipends and benefits?

Under the election agreement, stipend amounts, wage rates and corresponding benefits for Graduate Student Assistants will negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement.

Would there be any impact of unionization on the number of hours graduate student assistants covered by the contract allocate to teaching or research?

The election agreement allows for the negotiation of hours of service as part of the collective bargaining agreement. Whether an individual serves as a research assistant, teaching assistant, or teaching associate is not subject to negotiation. Faculty will determine who holds an assistantship at any given time, and whether that assignment will involve research or teaching.

GRADUATE STUDENT LIFE AT GEORGETOWN

How are decisions currently made at Georgetown with respect to matters like graduate student stipends, assistantships and benefits?

Graduate stipends are allocated by the program in which the student is enrolled. The stipend level and graduate student policies/benefits are determined by University Administration with the advice, counsel, and, when warranted, approval of the Executive Committee of the Graduate School.

What is the University doing to enhance resources provided to graduate students?

Georgetown is committed to continuing to enhance the resources provided to graduate students regardless of the outcome of the election. The Graduate School has significantly increased doctoral stipends by over 40 percent since the 2011-2012 academic year, and will continue to do so. The Graduate School also increased the level of non-service support during coursework years and now offers beginning to advanced language training over the summer. More recently, the Graduate School capped teaching at one course per semester, added a second graduate student to the Executive Committee of Graduate Studies, and opened new graduate student spaces on campus. Finally, the Graduate School increased recognition awards for graduate-student teaching and research efforts. In the past year, collaboration between graduate students and the Assistant Vice President for Student Health has led to an improved health insurance offering for all students. Over the past few years, New Graduate Student Orientation has been expanded to provide a more comprehensive welcome to our incoming graduate students. New sessions on a range of topics, from intramural sports to Georgetown history and traditions, have been popular with students. These steps are consistent with our goal of attracting the strongest students who will contribute to the collective intellectual growth of the Georgetown community and help build an excellent research institution.

What is the recent history of graduate student unionization at Georgetown?

On Nov. 1, 2017, GAGE asked that the University voluntarily recognize GAGE/AFT as the collective bargaining representative for a group of graduate student assistants at Georgetown.

On Dec. 4, 2017, Provost Robert M. Groves and Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Edward B. Healton informed GAGE that, after careful consultation and serious consideration, Georgetown University would not recognize it as the collective bargaining representative without first holding a supervised election among eligible graduate students.

At the end of December 2017, GAGE/AFT proposed that Georgetown enter into an agreement for an election that would be administered by a neutral third party, the American Arbitration Association (AAA), rather than by the NLRB, which typically oversees union elections. Georgetown gave this proposal serious consideration and determined it could provide an opportunity for a framework that would recognize that our graduate students’ relationship with the University is fundamentally an educational one, while also responding to graduate students’ desire to have a stronger voice in the terms of their service as Graduate Student Assistants. Georgetown then met with representatives of GAGE/AFT in a good-faith effort to develop an agreement that would meet these two objectives.

On April 2, 2018, GAGE/AFT and Georgetown reached agreement on the terms of an election process that the University thinks reflects and honors the principally academic relationship of graduate students to the University while enabling them to have a greater say in the terms of their service as Graduate Student Assistants. A copy of the election agreement can be found here. The agreement defines the Graduate Student Assistants who are eligible to vote in the election.

How has the University reached its position on graduate student unionization?

The University has consulted with faculty members involved in graduate education, elected faculty leaders, the Graduate School Executive Committee, the Provost’s Faculty Advisory Committee, deans of schools affected by the request for a union, and program directors and chairs of departments with large Ph.D. programs. The agreement addresses faculty concerns by recognizing that, should graduate students vote to be represented by a union, core academic issues would not be subject to negotiation. On March 23, 2018, the Executive Committee of the Graduate School, the principal academic policy-making body of the Graduate School, passed a resolution in support of this approach.

How can graduate students currently have a say in their experience?

Georgetown works closely with graduate students and is consistently working to enhance the graduate student experience. For instance, two graduate students, at least one of whom is a Ph.D. candidate, serve on the Executive Committee of the Graduate School, which is the principal policy-making body of the Graduate School. The Provost has established a Student Advisory Committee and Committee for Diversity in which students provide feedback on important issues. Graduate students also serve on the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Advisory Committee, and beginning in the Spring 2018 semester, graduate students serve on the Student Health Advisory Council. In addition, academic departments work directly with graduate students on issues regarding their programs. Finally, the Georgetown University Graduate Student Government (GradGov) is the chief representative body for all graduate students on campus and represents graduate students before the faculty and administration of the university.

What is the current compensation rate for doctoral students?

The 2018-19 Academic Year stipend is $29,000 for 15 hours per week of service over 32 weeks in the academic year (16 weeks per semester). This totals 480 hours at $60.42 per hour. In addition, doctoral students receive full tuition remission, and Georgetown covers the costs of doctoral students’ enrollment in the University’s Premier Student Health Insurance plan.

Under Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy, the current minimum total compensation requirement for full-time employees is $16.77 per hour.

What health insurance is available to graduate students?

Health insurance is available to full-time graduate students through Georgetown University’s Premier Student Health Insurance plan, and costs of this plan are covered for doctoral students. Georgetown’s plan provides the highest level of coverage at a moderate cost.

Because of changes made to the plan for the 2018-19 year, most students will pay 50 percent less for covered treatment at in-network providers, since co-insurance will be reduced from 20 percent to 10 percent. Out-of-pocket costs for enrollees will be capped at $5,000 for the plan year, down from $6,350. Enrollees visiting the Student Health Center will continue to pay nothing for covered medical expenses, after a small co-payment.

In addition to a high quality medical coverage through the national UnitedHealthCare network, students on the plan will continue to have access to the following discount networks: United HealthAllies, Basix Dental, and EyeMed vision coverage. All students may also purchase comprehensive dental and vision coverage by visiting gallagherstudent.com and searching for Georgetown.

What sort of out-of-pocket health costs do graduate students face?

Out-of-pocket costs for graduate students are capped at $5,000 for the plan year, down from $6,350.

What resources and training are available to prevent sexual misconduct and gender discrimination within our graduate student community?

Georgetown University strives to maintain a community characterized by respect for others. At a minimum, this means a community that is free from sexual and discriminatory harassment. All incoming students must complete the online Title IX education training, and any student listed as the instructor of record for a course must complete the online RESPECT training. The Title IX Office, along with the Graduate School, also offers a wide variety of training for students, both online and in-person. Beginning Fall 2017, the two offices began to offer in-person training to Ph.D. students and faculty within a department by request. These sessions have been tailored to meet the needs of the students or faculty requesting the training, and can be as small as an in depth situational discussion, or as large as a formalized group session. These training sessions will continue throughout the 2018-2019 academic year and will be open to all departments.

We have also developed a custom website to connect members of community with resources to address sexual misconduct: https://sexualassault.georgetown.edu/resourcecenter.

What resources are available to graduate students who have children?

Georgetown graduate students have the same eligibility and priority for enrolling their children in Hoya Kids Learning Center as full-time faculty and staff members. To maintain eligibility, the student must be enrolled in at least one class in two out of the three semesters in the academic year. Because of the center’s small size, a child may be added to the waitlist before his/her enrollment. A child’s place on the waiting list depends on his/her age cohort, and application date, as well as these three factors for each other child on the waiting list. Graduate students and their children may also access all of the family centered activities offered at Georgetown University. We are currently exploring the possibility of partnering with other childcare centers across the D.C. area to provide discounts to students with children.

What is Georgetown’s parental leave policy for graduate students?

The Graduate School offers support for graduate students who need to take leave in connection with the birth of and/or full time care of a new child during their period of enrollment. The goal in offering this support is to allow graduate students to continue their studies with as little disruption as possible. Parental leave is intended to enable the graduate student to continue to make progress toward his or her degree. Graduate students may take up to six consecutive weeks of parental leave within the first six weeks immediately following the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child. Doctoral graduate assistants will continue to receive their assistantship stipend during the six weeks of parental leave and will be relieved of their service requirements. The granting of requests for parental leave will not affect tuition scholarships held by graduate assistants. More information about the parental leave policy and additional terms that may apply for doctoral graduate assistants can be found in the Graduate Bulletin.  

GRADUATE STUDENT UNIONIZATION EFFORTS AT OTHER INSTITUTIONS

Is it the established law that graduate student assistants are employees?

The controlling federal law – the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – does not specifically include graduate students in the definition of “employee.” The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issues rulings interpreting the statute. After the NLRB first asserted jurisdiction over private universities in 1970, the NLRB held that graduate assistants are primarily students, and therefore not eligible to organize. In 2000, the NLRB changed course, holding that graduate assistants can be considered employees who are entitled to unionize, but this holding was reversed in 2004, when the NLRB again held that graduate student assistants are students, not employees, for the purposes of the NLRA. This remained the NLRB’s interpretation until August 2016, when its Columbia University decision found that graduate student assistants are employees with the right to organize.

These changing NLRB interpretations reflect different understandings of the graduate student experience and the role of teaching and research in graduate education. Georgetown, like many other private universities, believes that a graduate student’s relationship with the University is fundamentally an educational one, not one of employer and employee. The opportunity to conduct independent research and to teach is a vital component of a graduate education.

Are there graduate student unions at other universities?

We are aware of only one private university – New York University – that has recognized and entered into a collective bargaining agreement with a graduate student union. Graduate student groups at other private institutions have filed election petitions with the NLRB, and most of those schools have maintained that graduate student assistants are fundamentally students, not employees. Elections have been held on a number of campuses, with graduate students sometimes voting for a union, such as at Tufts University and the University of Chicago, and sometimes not, as was the case at Duke University and Washington University. A variety of claims relating to these elections have been brought before the NLRB, with results being challenged by both universities and unions. However, many of those claims are no longer pending before the NLRB because the unions chose to withdraw their petitions.

Graduate student unions exist at some public universities, but these universities are subject to state law, not federal labor law. State law often differs from federal labor law in many significant respects. For instance, state law may prohibit strikes and may protect certain academic decisions from collective bargaining.

What happens if the NLRB or another court overrules the Columbia University decision and finds that graduate students are not employees eligible for unionization?

Our Agreement with GAGE will continue. The Agreement is intended to provide a stable framework governing union representation and collective bargaining for Graduate Student Assistants, rather than being subject to changes in the rulings of the NLRB.