Myths v Reality
Myth : “A union is a third party that would interfere with the relationships between grads and their advisors.”
Reality: A graduate student union consists of graduate students. The leadership committee is and will always be made of up graduate students, as will the committee that negotiates our contract with the University. We graduate students will have full control of the structures and bylaws of the union and will make every decision, from the most mundane to the most important. When the administration says that a grad student union would be a third party, what they are saying is that graduate students are a third party here at Princeton. I cannot stress just how much I disagree. We are integral to the success of the university as a whole (and it’s worth noting that the Graduate School agrees, see p. 8), and as such, we deserve a role in shaping the conditions of our employment.
Myth: “Union dues will cut into my paycheck, and only grads who are actively teaching or conducting research would benefit from unionization.”
Reality: Unionization will not cost you a penny. No one will pay dues until we have a contract, and we won’t accept a contract that would result in any net decrease in earnings. It’s just not in our interest! With regards to who would benefit from that contract, any grad who has, is, or will teach or conduct research in a foreseeable future would be part of the bargaining group. That means if you will at any point during your Princeton career work as an AR or an AI, then you will benefit from the contract we negotiate. This includes nearly all of us.
Myth: “Being in a union means I have to go on strikes”
Reality: This is utterly false. We all have a right, protected by federal labor law, to work if we want to. Opponents of unionization don’t want us to know this because they want to scare us by making us believe that a union can force us to go on strike. Furthermore, strikes are exceedingly rare; 98% percent of contracts are negotiated without the need for striking. No one here at Princeton wants a strike, so it’s very unlikely that would ever happen.
Myth: “A union would hurt my relationship with my advisor.”
Reality: Published research suggests that unionization has no negative effect on faculty-student relations. It’s the union’s job to support students when advisor-student relationships go bad, not to interfere while they’re good.
Myth: “A union would impose the same policies across all departments.”
Reality: The union contract could be as detailed as we want it to be, including taking into account differences between departments. Again, nobody wants a “one size fits all” policy, so it won’t happen.
Myth: “Workers can be forced to join unions”
Reality: “In every jurisdiction in America, if the majority of workers choose to be represented by a union, any worker can object and choose not to join without risking his or her job. In non-right-to-work states, these objecting workers still pay a fair-share fee that covers the costs of representing them at work. These fees vary union by union and year-by-year based on expenditures, but typically they constitute 70 to 85 percent of regular union dues. Objecting workers do not pay for any political or other activities of the union. Nobody, anywhere, is ever forced to become a union member.”
Myth: “Unions only help union workers”
Reality: It’s true that unions prioritize the issues brought up by union members, but the benefits of union negotiations affect all workers regardless of union affiliation. That means you still benefit from the contract even if you don’t join the union
Myth: “You can’t join a union unless you’re a US citizen”
Reality: Anyone can join a union even if you’re a non-citizen. A union can also help international students with visa problems and tax issues. Everyone has the right to participate in the union, no matter what their immigration status. Given the current anti-immigration political climate in this country, a union could offer legal protections to international students who are at risk of having to leave the country if they were victims of arbitrary termination.
Myth: “If I don’t feel like I need any changes in my work life, I shouldn’t join a union”
Reality: Even if you’re completely content with your current situation, the university can unilaterally make changes without our consent, like they did in 2015 when they changed our prescription drug plan without consulting us and with little to no forewarning. A union negotiates a contract that ensures security for benefits you already enjoy.
Myth: “If the union forces the university to increase stipends, Princeton will have to make cuts elsewhere that could hurt me”
Reality: Right now, Princeton’s budget allocation is a secret. Graduate students have no voice in how the university allocates funds. Negotiations with a union could require that Princeton be more transparent with its financial decisions and we could find ways to increase benefits without hurting the smooth functioning of the university. It’s hard to believe that a university with a 22 billion dollar endowment lacks the funds to, say, give us the same quality of health insurance that all other Princeton employees have.
Myth: “I’m an AR. My salary comes out of my lab’s grant money, so If I get paid more, that means less money for the project”
Reality: Princeton keeps a share of the money brought in through sponsored research (F&A costs) and uses it to pay for things like building maintenance and lab equipment, but also uses it to fund administrative offices. We think that if the administration is going to subsidize their own budgets with YOUR research grants, they can at least contribute enough to your salaries so that AR’s make a salary commensurate with the long hours (often 40/50+ per week!) they work in their labs.
The following is an additional resource concerning unionization: