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Negotiation FAQs

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the term used to describe negotiations between a union and an employer if a union is certified as the exclusive bargaining representative of employees in a bargaining unit.

What is a collective bargaining agreement?

A collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) is a contract that is negotiated between an employer and a union. This document memorializes the working conditions, such as wages, benefits and hours of work, for employees in the bargaining unit covered by that particular CBA.

Who is negotiating the collective bargaining agreement?

The university and the union selected their negotiating teams/committees.

How are negotiations conducted?

Generally, both the university and the union discuss their interests and priorities and exchange written proposals and counter-proposals for what they would like to include in a collective bargaining agreement. Although both sides are required to negotiate over “mandatory subjects of bargaining” in good faith, neither side is required to agree to a specific proposal. The union and the university would continue negotiations until a tentative agreement is reached on a CBA. The tentative agreement is then taken to a ratification vote of the union membership.

What types of topics will be covered in a contract between Stanford and the union?

The NLRA requires bargaining over “mandatory subjects of bargaining.” This includes an obligation to bargain in good faith about wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Consistent with other institutions of higher learning that have graduate student unions, the university’s position is that mandatory subjects of bargaining do not include the university’s academic prerogatives, including admissions decisions, curriculum and degree requirements, organization of programs, evaluation of academic progress, and assignment of research and teaching assistant roles.

How long does it take to negotiate the first collective bargaining agreement?

It is difficult to estimate. However, negotiating a first contract can take significant time. We understand that, on average, it takes more than one year to negotiate a first contract.

Can changes be made while negotiations are ongoing?

The university is required to maintain the status quo concerning any matter that is considered a mandatory subject of bargaining.

Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place, can a school/department/PI vary from the terms of the collective bargaining agreement?

Both the university and the union have an obligation to adhere to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Any agreement to waive or vary from any term of a collective bargaining agreement requires the agreement of the union and the university. For any questions, please contact

What can happen if a graduate worker or the union believes the university has violated their rights under the NLRA?

The graduate worker or the union can file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. An unfair labor practice charge, commonly referred to as a ULP, is an allegation that an employer or union has acted in violation of the NLRA.

What happens if a union and an employer are unable to reach an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement?

If a union and the employer cannot reach agreement on a collective bargaining agreement, normally the employer makes what is called a “last, best, and final” offer. Typically, the union will ask the union members to vote on the proposal. If the vote is to accept the offer, then the terms of the “last, best, and final” offer becomes the agreement. However, if the members of the bargaining unit reject the offer, then there is no agreement, and the union could decide to strike. Also, with or without a strike, if the parties are at “impasse,” the employer has the right to unilaterally implement its “last, best, and final” offer. If an employer takes this step, the parties are still obligated to continue negotiating in an effort to reach an agreement.

Union FAQs

What is a union?

A labor union is an organization that is the exclusive representative of a group of employees that negotiates with an employer on employment matters such as wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.

What is the NLRB and what is its role in forming a union?

The NLRB is an independent federal agency created to enforce the NLRA.

What is the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)?

The SGWU decided to affiliate with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). UE is a national union representing workers in a variety of manufacturing, public sector and private service-sector jobs. UE is an independent union, meaning it is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO federation of unions.

Who is represented by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America Local 1043, Stanford Graduate Workers Union (UE Local 1043-SGWU)?

The UE Local 1043-SGWU represents all Ph.D., Masters (excluding MBA) and J.D. students (as well as students pursuing degree combinations that include Ph.D., Masters (excluding MBA), and J.D.) enrolled at Stanford University who provide instructional and/or research services for the University in classifications including Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, and Course Assistant, and students on fellowship who provide instructional services.

The following populations are excluded: 

  • All other exempt employees (including faculty or staff enrolled using university tuition benefit) 
  • Students who are not providing research or instructional services for any class listed in Stanford Explore Courses including all other students on fellowship 
  • All other students (including but not limited to the following students: MBA, DMA, JSD, MD, and undergraduate students (including undergraduates who are conterminously enrolled in graduate program)
  • Students not seeking Stanford degrees, and visiting students 
  • Office clericals; managers; guards and supervisors as defined in the NLRA 

Does Stanford have any other unions?

Stanford is proud of our collaborative working relationship with SEIU Higher Education Workers Local 2007 and the Stanford Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (SDSA).

Are all graduate students obligated to be part of  the union?

All graduate students included in the bargaining unit are represented by the union and subject to the terms and conditions negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement – regardless of whether an individual graduate student voted for unionization or not. The union is the “exclusive representative” of everyone in the bargaining unit for wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.

Can a graduate worker refuse to become a union member even though they are part of the bargaining unit?

Yes, a person may decide not to become a member of the union, but even if an individual does not become a member, they are still subject to the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement. 

Does being in a union cost graduate workers money?

Yes, unions charge dues and/or fees. The amount of union dues and/or fees collected from employees represented by unions is set by the union. According to the SGWU website, UE’s present minimum dues are 1.44% of wages. The issue of the payment and collection of dues and/or fees is being negotiated under the topic of “union security.”