To what extent involving the union can help or hinder the graduate students in their grievance process?

Table of contents
  1. Statute of Limitations and Scope
  2. Grievance Against the Union
  3. Work Hours and Vacation
  4. Intellectual Property Rights

The grievance procedure is currently the number one promise of the PGSU, as stated on their website. By comparing different union grievance procedures across universities, we can see that what the union can achieve is marginal at best. PGSU also conveniently ignores that most student unions do not have internal grievance procedures when students have a dispute with the union itself. This puts the union themselves in the position of being the sole arbitrator of the dispute, which presents a clear conflict of interest.

Statute of Limitations and Scope

Unlike Princeton’s internal grievance procedure, existing graduate unions grievance procedures have a statute of limitations in their contract. This means that the graduate students need to file their grievance as soon as possible if they want to involve the union representatives. The statue of limitations is typically 15 days or 30 days after the incident which you can compare in the table below.

University Internal Statute of Limitations Union Statute of Limitation
Princeton None ???
MIT 60 days 30 days
UChicago 30 days 30 days
Harvard ??? 30 days
Columbia 30 days 30 days

PGSU conveniently ignores the fact that academic grievance can take years to resolve. For example, in the last three major cases against Princeton professors1 2 3, the initial complaints filed months after the respective incidents. This suggests that the union will not be able to help the graduate students in such cases.

Most, if not all, of the ratified union contracts about the union grievance procedure are confined to only what is stated within the contract. This means that all of the items written in the Management and Academic Rights section of the contract are off-limits to the union grievance procedure and the University is within its rights to not negotiate on these items. This is a significant limitation as most of the academic disputes are related to the academic rights of the graduate students.

Additionally, the decision to pursue a case is typically left to the discretion of the union representatives. This means that the union can choose to not represent the graduate students if they think that the case is not strong enough or if they think that the case will not benefit the union itself.

None of the union grievance procedures mention a requirement for them to be impartial in the process. In addition, there is also no mention of confidentiality during the process. This procedure is more flawed than the Princeton’s internal grievance procedures, as it is ill-equipped to handle sensitive complaints. Please note that some universities also prohibit the use of internal grievance procedures during the union grievance process.

The union grievance procedure is limited and not as powerful as the union claims it to be. In fact, it puts the student at the mercy of the union representatives who may exhibit bias and compromise confidentiality.

Grievance Against the Union

In the UE politics section, we discussed how affiliated national union politics can be polarizing. None of the ratified union contracts include a clause that allows the graduate students to file a grievance against the union itself. This means that the union can be the judge, jury, and executioner in any dispute with graduate students.

This problem will only worsen with the push for union shop, meaning that all of the graduate students will be mandated to pay union dues. Students who disagree with the union political stances, for example, would still have to settle their dispute with the union itself. The university will not be able to help the students in this case as they are not allowed to interfere with the union’s internal matters.

The issue of grievance against the union is becoming a growing concern in UE-affiliated unions. The MIT GSU-UE has faced two separate National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cases from their members in the past year4 5. One case involves the union’s refusal to accept religious exemptions, which should be covered by the Beck rights. Beck rights allows individuals to redirect the union dues on religious grounds to a non-religious charitable organization.

Please read the letter from UE regarding the first MIT case below, courtesy of Cornell United.

Regardless of your stance on the issue, it is alarming that the union can decide on the matter by themselves.

While the union can fight the university on your behalf, the university cannot fight the union on your behalf.

Work Hours and Vacation

Right now, as a graduate student, you are expected to work 20 hours per week, in theory. However, in practice, most of the graduate students work more than this amount. In a recent email, PGSU promises to establish “the right to reasonable workloads and regular hours”. This claim is supported by all ratified contracts from other graduate student unions, which provide a soft cap on the work hours.

It is important to note that this works both ways. The contract will also limit the amount of vacation time that you can take. All of the contracts now have clause that limits the amount of vacation time that you have and requires the employee to notify the employer in writing. This is a recent issue facing the MIT graduate students, where a restrictive vacation schedule clause was enforced by the university.

Intellectual Property Rights

Contrary to the PGSU claim, Princeton University treats the graduate students’ the same as the faculty members in terms of intellectual property rights. See the excerpt from the Inventor’s Guide to Technology Transfer from the Office of Technology Licensing below:

Equal Intellectual Rights

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Page last modified: 2024-05-06.