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Student Resources

About 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.


Union Basics

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.

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

Are graduate students eligible to join a union?
Yes. In a 2016 decision involving Columbia University, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that graduate student assistants who perform various teaching and research tasks in partial fulfillment of their graduate programs are “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This ruling gave graduate student assistants, such as teaching assistants and research assistants, the right to unionize and to bargain collectively.

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 process to form a union/unionize?
A union seeking to represent a group of employees first needs to obtain “authorization cards” from at least 30% of people they want to represent. Once a union has a sufficient percentage of signed authorization cards, it can present the cards to the NLRB and request an election. A secret ballot election gives each employee in the bargaining unit the opportunity to vote. If results show a majority of the voters (50% + 1) are in favor of the union, the NLRB will certify the union.

What are union authorization cards?
Authorization cards are written declarations signed by members of a potential bargaining unit stating that they authorize a particular union to be their exclusive representative for the purposes of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment with their employer. Unions collect authorization cards to demonstrate that there is a substantial interest in forming a union.

Does being in a union cost graduate students 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. Unions typically seek to have employers deduct dues and/or fees directly from employees’ pay. According to the SGWU website, UE’s present minimum dues are 1.44% of wages.

Are all graduate students obligated to join a union?
If a majority of eligible voters affirmatively vote for union representation, 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 becomes the “exclusive representative” of everyone in the bargaining unit for wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.

Can a graduate student 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 unions usually require “non-members” to pay a fee to the union. The fee is a charge to cover the union’s costs of representation. The fee can be the same as membership dues, although sometimes it is less. However, even if an individual does not become a member, they are still subject to the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement.


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 negotiates the collective bargaining agreement?

If a majority votes in favor of union representation, the university and the union would establish their negotiating teams. 

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 would be covered in a contract between Stanford and a union representing graduate students?

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 now or while negotiations are ongoing?

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

If 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 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.