While the vast majority of GWC-UAW organizers are volunteers, the union has hired a few student employees temporarily to work part-time on the campaign at certain points. Building our union requires a lot of resources, especially given the large number of research and teaching assistants at our university. One of the reasons we chose to work with the UAW originally was because of its commitment to utilize a small number of committed organizers from our bargaining unit as part-time staff when the work was heavy, in addition to UAW organizers who have experience in other higher education organizing and bargaining campaigns. If you are ever interested in working for the union, send us an email at
Bargaining committees are elected by the members of the bargaining unit they represent, who also determine the size and composition of the committee. Most memberships balance a need for a committee that is manageable in size and still representative of discipline, job title, etc..

By way of example, the bargaining committee at UConn had six members, who came from Engineering, Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. At the University of California, they had two committee members per campus.
First, and most importantly, RAs and TAs share many common interests. For example, health care, family benefits, pay increases, protection against discrimination and sexual harassment, time off for vacation or other reasons, tuition and fee waivers, timely payment for work performed, protection against last-minute loss of appointments, international student rights, and a fair grievance procedure affect RAs and TAs all across campus and are typically central issues in contract negotiations regardless of who is on the bargaining committee.

Second, RAs and TAs will get to vote democratically to approve not only the initial bargaining goals prior to negotiations but also the final contract negotiated by the committee, which encourages democratic accountability.  In the recent University of California postdoc contract campaign, the most recent UAW academic example, a majority of all 6,200 postdocs voted in favor of the bargaining committee’s initial demands, which were based on extensive surveys, and voted to accept the final contract.

In electing our bargaining committee, we plan to  follow the example of other graduate unions in the UAW that have tended to balance a need for a committee that is manageable in size and still representative of discipline, job title, etc.  At NYU and UConn, several meetings were held soon after official union recognition to work out the size of the bargaining committee.  At UConn, they ended up electing six committee members who came from Engineering, Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education, all the major disciplines on campus.  The contract they negotiated increased stipends; resulted in a new, and significantly improved, healthcare program; improved workload protections; reduced fees; included protections from discrimination; and, included provisions for job security.  When the final agreement was put to a vote, graduate assistants voted 99% in favor, with a majority of all those eligible voting yes.

We will do the same—soon after the election, we will hold meetings to determine the size and composition of the committee.  While we have examples from other universities, we will have to figure out what will work best at Columbia.
For our first contract, those union supporters working in the bargaining unit who have signed union authorization cards, would be eligible to vote in the ratification vote. At a ratification vote for a first contract it is customary to provide employees with the opportunity to sign up.
Local 2110 has union by-laws that lay out how the union is governed. Modifications to the bylaws can be made by membership vote. GWC-UAW as a bargaining unit can also develop its own unit bylaws to address issues that are specific to the unit.
To be a member of the union, you must have worked in the bargaining unit and paid dues. In a recent steward election, certain candidates who had not worked in union positions or ever paid dues, were deemed to be ineligible to run under the Local 2110 bylaws and the UAW constitution. These candidates have filed an appeal with the UAW (which they are entitled to do), and the appeal is being adjudicated. Ultimately, if either Local 2110 or the appealing candidates disagrees with the UAW’s decision, they can appeal it further to an outside Public Review Board, an independent body unique to the UAW, which will issue a binding decision.
Local 2110 is governed by a Joint Council composed of delegates from every workplace. The number of delegates each workplace has is based on the number of dues-paying members they have. If all 3,000 workers in GWC-UAW joined the union and paid dues, GWC would be entitled to 60 delegates to the Joint Council.
A member in the union at UC appealed the vote for numerous reasons, including that he thought the vote exceeded the Local Union’s authority under the democratic structure of the UAW Constitution. The UAW International Executive Board (IEB), and, subsequently, an independent review board unique to the UAW agreed that the vote exceeded the Local’s authority because positions on major political issues are set by the IEB, since it represents and has to balance the interests of hundreds of locals and 400,000 individual members across the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. In other words, the vote in California has no effect on the national position of the UAW. A little over 2,000 members, out of 400,000, have voted to support BDS.
Much of the appeal of the BDS vote in California revolved around interpretation of the Ethical Practices Code (EPC), a key component of the UAW Constitution that codifies the Union’s intent to promote internal democracy while also attempting to balance the interests of ALL members of the Union.  The key passage is the following.  “Each member shall be entitled to a full share in Union self-government. Each member shall have full freedom of speech and the right to participate in the democratic decisions of the Union. Subject to reasonable rules and regulations, each member shall have the right to run for office, to nominate and to vote in free, fair and honest elections. In a democratic union, as in a democratic society, every member has certain rights but s/he also must accept certain corresponding obligations. Each member shall have the right freely to criticize the policies and personalities of Union officials; however, this does not include the right to undermine the Union as an institution; to vilify other members of the Union and its elected officials or to carry on activities with complete disregard of the rights of other members and the interests of the Union; to subvert the Union in collective bargaining or to advocate or engage in dual unionism.”

The UAW definition of democracy also encompasses a commitment, in Article 2 of the Constitution, to further “the improvement of general economic and social conditions in the United States of America, Canada, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and generally in the nations of the world.”

The UAW is unique in the US labor movement in that it allows appeals like the one from the member in California to go to the independent PRB, so that a neutral party decides whether the UAW has followed its own democratic procedures.
Like in any democratic organization, disagreements sometimes happen within the UAW.  In the late 1990s, there were some internal disputes at UMass and at UC Santa Barbara.  Fortunately, the UAW has democratic structures in place to address such disagreements and to ensure the rights of all members.  In 2004, as the anti-union campaign raised questions about these events in the lead-up to a unionization vote at the University of Washington, members from UMass and UCSB addressed the situation.  You can read their comments below.

February 29, 2004

“I am a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the President of UAW Local 2322, the union that represents graduate teaching and research assistants at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Our union was recognized in 1991 and has bargained six contracts since that time. We have been able to negotiate dramatic improvements for our members on wages, healthcare, childcare, and other issues.

As you move closer to your election you may hear negative things about the UAW at UMass.

There were problems in the local in the past. People in the local couldn’t resolve their disputes, and some democratic practices were not being followed. But the UAW, the larger organization that we are part of, didn’t let that situation disintegrate. At the request of members of our local, a UAW staff member assisted us in getting things back on track by allowing our democratically elected leadership to take charge. At the time I was skeptical of the role that the UAW staff might play, but I have to say that it was the best thing for the local. The future of Local 2322 is bright. We have had a number of great accomplishments recently – a new contract and organizing victories for more campus workers. I want to encourage you to vote yes in your election and look forward to welcoming you into the UAW.”

James A.W. Shaw
President Local 2322 United Auto Workers
Northampton, MA

February 28, 2004

“We are the current elected UC Santa Barbara leadership of UAW Local 2865. We urge the ASEs at University of Washington to vote yes for GSEAC/UAW in your upcoming election. We are proud to be members of the UAW.

Like most democratic organizations, we have had some internal disagreements. In the late 1990’s a small group at our campus disagreed over bargaining goals and strategies. The group, including some of the elected bargaining team members, wanted to have the right to strike over grievances, in addition to the remedy of binding arbitration, in the contract. This was not a position supported by the Santa Barbara membership in bargaining surveys or organizing contacts, nor by the rest of the elected bargaining teams and members at UC’s seven other campuses. The Santa Barbara bargaining team members resigned over this disagreement. The contract was subsequently ratified by all UC campuses, including Santa Barbara. Since then, we and elected leadership at the other seven UC campuses have negotiated a second contract, also ratified by members at all campuses.”

Brian Campbell, UCSB Campus Unit Chair, UAW Local 2865, Geological Sciences
Nina Kilham, UCSB Campus Recording Secretary, UAW Local 2865, Geography
Susie Keller, UCSB Campus Head Steward, UAW Local 2865, English


The National Labor Relations Board has decided that undergraduate teaching assistants are included. If you want to sign up, contact us at
TA and and RA working conditions are undergraduate learning conditions! At a large research university like Columbia, TAs and RAs take on a significant portion of the teaching and grading responsibilities for undergraduate instruction. They conduct cutting-edge research as part of world-renowned research labs whose presence at Columbia also enhances the quality of undergraduate education. In order to maintain these standards of excellence it is crucial for Columbia undergrads to recognize TA and RA labor and support these workers’ right to negotiate a fair contract with the University through collective bargaining, so our TAs and RAs have the time, energy, and resources to devote to our undergraduate experience.
Well-endowed universities like Columbia don’t need to raise tuition or lower financial aid to accommodate fair working conditions. Through fundraising and investments, Columbia’s endowment has grown to over $8 billion. Columbia has the money to fairly compensate the people who keep it running without adversely affecting other student populations. If you are a student worker, having a union allows you to negotiate your working conditions directly with Columbia. Having a union on campus also gives all students a greater voice in issues that will positively affect everyone at the university (for example, addressing problems with payroll and advocating against tuition increases across the board).

There has been no research showing that student unions raise the price of tuition. At institutions such as the University of Washington and the University of California, graduate worker unions have been instrumental in helping to campaign against tuition increases.