Frequently Asked Questions

Note (June 16, 2020): This FAQ was prepared in Fall 2018 and is currently being updated to reflect the contemporary state of our union. Thank you for your patience, and please email standupforgrads [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions!

Office hours at the Rock!

What is GLO?

Graduate Labor Organization (GLO) is a grassroots organization of graduate-student workers at Brown University. GLO was founded in 2014 to advocate for graduate-student workers; GLOs accomplishments include fighting to save sixth-year funding, winning dental insurance for all graduate-student workers, and ratifying the first collective bargaining agreement for graduate-student workers at an Ivy League university. Our hundreds of members come from departments and schools within the university. We are affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP).

Who runs the union?

We do! GLO was founded and is run by graduate-student workers, and it’s graduate-student workers who run the day-to-day operations of our union. The foundation of our organization is learning about each other, thinking about what we could achieve together in a union, and taking action to build collective power to achieve our goals. We will work together to listen to each other and think creatively about shared goals and how we can collectively achieve them. We are currently in the process of selecting the Union Executive Board.

In the spring of 2017, after a referendum, we decided to join the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a national union with a reputation for respecting the independence of its locals, which reflects the extent to which our members value GLO’s autonomy. The AFT will support our efforts to advocate for graduate-student workers by sharing key resources, including legal counsel and organizing assistance.

Who represents us in the bargaining committee?

We do. We want our bargaining committee to consist of members from every program and department to make sure all voices are represented. We will have legal assistance from the AFT, but we develop our proposals and we sit at the negotiating table.

What universities have graduate employee unions?

Graduate workers at dozens of state universities, from the University of California system to Rutgers, have long had successful grad unions, and our colleagues at private universities like New York University and Tufts University have recently joined them in this endeavor. For more on graduate-worker unionization see our page on unions across the US as well as our timeline on the history of unionization at private universities.

How is GLO different from other graduate student groups on campus?

GLO is one among many graduate-student-led groups working toward improving the place where we work, learn, and live by bringing together and amplifying the voices of graduate students. What makes GLO unique as our union is its independence from Brown’s administration and, should we win our election, its unique capacity, protected by U.S. labor law, to be our representative in bargaining for our contract.

Among other important student groups at Brown are interest- and identity-based groups like Nabrit and Graduate Women in Science and Engineering. There is also the Graduate Student Council (GSC), which meets on a monthly basis, serving in an advisory capacity to administrators and tasked with the distribution of funds for social and academic life on campus. The GSC can serve an important function in advocating for student needs on campus. GLO was founded to meet the need for an independent voice for graduate students funded independently and organized from the administration. Many members of GLO are active in GSC advisory groups, and GLO has collaborated with the GSC in the past. Yet experience has shown us the need for an autonomous, self-governing body to represent our interests as university employees, and to advocate for higher wages and access to the resources we need to thrive as scholars.

As an international student, how would a union benefit me?

Joining a union can be beneficial to international graduate students for several reasons. First, our union can provide a voice and advocacy for international graduate students who don’t always know the U.S. university system. Second, our union can help ensure that departmental hiring practices are clear, open, and fair so that international graduate students don’t miss out on work opportunities. Third, since U.S. law prohibits international students from being paid for more than 20 hours per week, our union can play a key role in ensuring a minimum stipend that guarantees a decent living standard. Fourth, better and more affordable benefits, a fair and enforceable grievance procedure, higher wages, a voice in our working conditions, and respect as employees are things all grads and their families deserve.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, we would elect representatives to negotiate on equal footing with Brown and put the terms of our employment into a binding contract, on which every union member will vote in order for it to take effect. With collective bargaining, graduate employees can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment. Without collective bargaining, Brown has the power to change our conditions or decide whether or not to make improvements without being held accountable to the people who are directly affected by these changes: graduate student workers.

Graduate-student workers at NYU recently negotiated a new contract with the University in which they won significant pay increases, free dental insurance, and childcare fund. They were able to win voluntary recognition because they had strong graduate support and continued to take action to make the University respect their decision to form a union.

Is there a chance that unionizing will lower some students’ stipends to match that of other departments?

No. A contract sets salary floors, not ceilings, and departments can and do pay above any minimum salary established in the collective bargaining agreement (see the contracts at UWashington or NYU). GLO has no desire to lower anyone’s pay in order to equalize salaries across the university. In fact, many contracts have a ‘Maintenance of Benefits’ clause, which states that no graduate employee will earn less in pay or benefits under the contract than they did before. Typically, percentage increases in the contract will apply even if you earn above the wage floor. The university already faces competition from other top research institutions in attracting students in certain fields; the upward pressure on stipends in certain fields will only be strengthened with the power of collective bargaining.

Would a union change what is unique about each department?

GLO’s goal is to promote graduate-student flourishing at Brown by making sure our needs our met. In setting baseline standards and expectations, we in no way interfere with the autonomy each department has to meet these standards. Further, many important workplace issues—like parental leave, dental and vision insurance, grievance policies, and workers’ compensation—simply can’t be resolved at the department level. Still, it is precisely because of the diversity of experiences that graduate-student workers have at Brown that we talk to everyone and have folks involved from every field. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work; we’re building this union from the ground up, so this is an ideal time to get involved in shaping it. (Source: Cornell Grad Union FAQ)

Funding for my research assistantship comes from a grant, so how could we negotiate over that?

Currently, the Brown determines RA pay rates unilaterally, and those rates – as well as projected increases – are factored into grant proposals to agencies like NIH, NSF, DOD, etc. With collective bargaining, we would negotiate as equals with the Brown for improvements to our pay rates. RAs at UMASS, the University of Washington, and NYU as well as postdocs at the University of California, have negotiated guaranteed annual increases to their pay rates through collective bargaining. (Source: Columbia Grad Union FAQ.)

Am I covered by the contract?

If you are employed as a Research Assistant, Teaching Assistant, or Proctor as a condition of receiving your stipend, you are covered by the contract. For a more precise answer to this question, see Article I of our contract.

How do I know if I’m part of the Bargaining Unit?

You can find out if you’re part of the Bargaining Unit by logging onto Banner ( Navigate to the “Student” tab and click “Graduate Student Appointment Details”; click the appointment letter for the relevant year and look to the line “Appointment Classification”.

Who can be a Member of the Union?

Any graduate student at Brown University can be a member of the Union! We are a membership-led organization and we can best realize our legal right to have a say in our workplace when members take action together. You can sign a membership card here.

How do I become a Member?

To become a Member you need to sign a Union card and pay dues. You can find a digital union card here! Before or after you sign your card, we strongly recommend prospective members have an onboarding/organizing conversation with an organizer to answer any questions you may have and share about our union’s ongoing projects. Email if you’d like to speak with an organizer!.

Can I choose not to be a Member?

If you’re appointed to a position that is included in the Bargaining Unit and covered by our Union contract, the Union automatically represents your interests in negotiations with the University administration. You can choose not to become a Member of the Union, but you have to pay Fair Share Fees to cover the costs associated with this union representation, which are a large percentage of the full dues rate.
People who are not part of the Bargaining Unit are free to choose to become members of the Union (or not) at their individual discretion.

How much are dues?

Member dues rate: 1.65% of the stipend while a member (deducted pre-tax)
For Members in the Bargaining Unit, dues are typically deducted monthly by the employer; Members not in the Bargaining Unit will typically pay dues at the beginning of the semester. All Members are expected to pay dues to remain in good standing.
People in the Bargaining Unit who are not Members must pay a Fair Share Fee, which is typically 85% of the full member dues rate.

What are Fair Share Fees, and why do I have to pay them?

Fair Share Fees or Agency Fees are the dues that must be paid by anyone in the Bargaining Unit who has not opted to become a Member of the Union. These fees cover the cost of enforcing the contract which the Union is legally required to do for all members of the Bargaining Unit, including mediation and arbitration of grievances, and the costs of negotiating with the University.

What are dues used for?

Our union is an organization funded entirely by its members. Dues are used to cover costs associated with enforcing the contract and with organizing, including: hiring lawyers to represent Members in mediation and arbitration, hiring staff to carry out the day-to-day operations of the organization, renting office and other meeting space where necessary, and providing professional development and social justice training opportunities.
Our budget will be set by the Executive Board after we hold our first round of elections. In the meantime, check out the Budget Basics document to get more details on the kinds of things we can support using our dues, and may be included in our operating budget.

How do I vote in Union elections?

According to the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (the main body of law governing elections in private-sector unions), elections of Officers must be conducted by mail. Members of the Union will receive a paper ballot at their registered address before the election date (ballots can be mailed internationally). Please, update your address to make sure that you receive your ballot.

I have a grievance, who should I talk to?

Speak to the elected Lead Organizer associated with your division of the university or constituency. The Steward in your worksite can help connect you with the Lead Organizer.

How do I know which Division I am part of?

You can find which Division your program is part of in the Faculty Rules & Regulations, Appendices, part II. Public Health graduate students are part of the Life Sciences Division for the purposes of Union representation.

I am a Member, but not part of the Bargaining Unit. Can I hold a leadership position in the Union?

Yes! Members who are not part of the Bargaining Unit can become Stewards or join any of the standing Committees, other than the Bargaining Committee.
According to labor law, positions on the Executive Board, the Bargaining Committee, and Delegates to local and national labor meetings have to be held by people in the Bargaining Unit.

I am already a Member; how can I get more involved with the Union?

You can start by following us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), or emailing
If you’d like to take a more active role in directing the Union’s goals and supporting fellow grads, there are a variety of positions and committees available for members to fill, including Officer positions (details in Article V) and Steward positions (details in Article VIII). You can find a brief explanation of some of these roles in the Constitution Basics.
Once we have the first round of elections, you’ll be able to contact a Steward for your worksite to find out how to get involved, or attend a General Members Meeting.

Note: This FAQ was prepared with inspiration from GSU and GEO FAQs.