Against UE

The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) is a national union that PGSU voted to affiliate with in 2021. As a national union, UE will act as students’ sole agent in negotiating with the university. Unfortunately PGSU has not been transparent in communicating the stakes of being represented by the current union of choice, UE.

Table of contents
  1. UE Politics
  2. UE Demands Union Shop
    1. UE is Not Financially Healthy

UE Politics

UE’s radical political stances have been a concern for many graduate students in Princeton and other universities1 2.

Labor unions are political by nature. All the established graduate unions have historically provided endorsements, whether it is for or against individuals or movements.

UE as a national labor union has a strong political stance that characterizes the movement as aggresive struggle. For its members, UE doctrine is always “us against them”, the workers against the bosses, or in our case, the graduate students against the advisors and the university. This is also why the PGSU-UE keeps spreading misinformation and fearmongering about the university’s intentions.

The “us against them” mentality that UE has is not suitable for the academic setting, where the relationship between graduate students and the university is more nuanced than the typical employer-employee relationship.

UE has supported a range of controversial policies that are divisive and polarizing. Some of the policies that UE has endorsed include:

Regardless of your stance on these issues, it is important to note that as a UE affiliate, it is very likely that PGSU will be railroaded to adopt these stances as well. With how divisive and polarized Princeton has become, it wouldn’t be wise to introduce more contentious issues into the mix.

While PGSU keeps insisting that the union will be a democratic institution, the fact that none of the student organizers have publicly addressed these issues is concerning. A lot of the students have expressed their concerns in the last few weeks, but the PGSU organizers have not addressed them.

Looking at the recent open letter3, most graduate students are not interested in taking sides. In the presence of the union, the students will need to show their stances through votes. UAW 4811 that represents the University of California graduate students called for a strike vote next week regarding the Israel-Palestinian protests. The political apathy can be easily weaponized by the organizers to push their own agenda as when they endorse a cause, the endorsement may suggest that all graduate students support the cause.

We have seen this happened recently, for example MIT GSU-UE adopted the Palestinian refrendum with 664 to 278 votes out of 7,344 students. While in Harvard, dozens graduate union represatives who are against similar refrendum can easily leave, all of the MIT graduate students cannot leave the union unless they sue them in court.

A union is political by nature, UE radical political stances will create unnecessary division among the graduate students. Regardless what your individual stance is, you can be forced to vote on these issues, and the union can easily weaponize the political apathy to push their own agenda.

UE Demands Union Shop

In all of the ratified UE graduate student union contracts, the union has demanded a union shop clause.

Under the union shop clause, all graduate students in the bargaining unit will be mandated to pay union dues, even if they do not want to be a part of the union. The amount of dues based on UE’s constitution and other UE graduate union ratified contracts is 1.44% of the stipend before tax. For those who do not opt to be a part of the union, they can pay the agency fee by giving up their voting power. However, the agency fee is exactly the same as the union dues. Essentially, this means that everyone has to pay union dues amounting to more than $725 per year.

In the case of MIT-GSU UE, the union created rhetoric that deceived the graduate students regarding two different ratified contracts, which resulted in students agreeing to the union shop clause, causing them a net loss of more than $2,000 over the contract duration.

Other graduate student unions operate under an open shop model, meaning that students can choose whether to join the union or not. Below is the list of graduate student unions that have the open shop arrangement and their associated fees:

Graduate Union National Union Status Union Dues Agency Fee
Harvard HGSU-UAW UAW Open Shop 1.44% -
Columbia GWC-UAW UAW Open Shop 1.44% -
University of California UAW 2865 UAW Open Shop 1.65% -
NYU GSOC-UAW UAW Union Shop 2% 2%
UMich GEO-AFT AFT Open Shop 1.65% -
Rutgers AAUP-AFT AFT Open Shop 0.8% -
MIT GSU-UE UE Union Shop 1.44% 1.44%
UChicago GSU-UE UE Union Shop 1.44% 1.44%
Northwestern NUGWC -UE UE Union Shop 1.44% 1.44%

UE is Not Financially Healthy

Compared to UAW and AFT, UE is not financially healthy and is in $600,000 debt as of 2023!

Based on public data from the Department of Labor, the UE national headquarters (File Number: 000-058) has been losing money every year with dwindling membership. Their total assets have shrunk by more than 93%, and membership has decreased by 35% since 2000. The 2023 report indicates that they had received an average of $170 dollars per member in dues, which is much smaller than what graduate students will pay.

Their push to unionize graduate students will be a huge financial boon for them. MIT graduate students alone will be paying $1.7 million in dues within a year, about 40% of UE’s current income. With UChicago, Northwestern, and Johns Hopkins also joining, UE will be receiving more than twice their current revenue from graduate students alone.

Despite the huge financial gain from the graduate students, we will not be represented equally in the national union. Article 22 Section F of the UE constitution states that the local chapters are represented by a minimum of 3 delegates and a maximum of 15 delegates in their national convention. This means that PGSU will have disproportionately less say in the national union compared to the other smaller chapters.

UE push for union shop will force all graduate students to pay union dues, even if they do not want to be a part of the union. The union dues will be used to fund UE’s national activities, which will not benefit the graduate students in any way.

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Page last modified: 2024-05-08.