What is a Labor Union?
A labor union is a legally certified organization that has the exclusive right to collectively bargain contracts for and file grievances on behalf of a group of employees at a workplace. They are sometimes called “Collective Bargaining Agents,” and the contracts are sometimes called “Collective Bargaining Agreements.”
Below is a short video detailing the history of labor unions and if they’re necessary today to get you started…
What is the purpose of having a labor union?
Labor unions give workers a voice. UF, for instance, employs about 4,000 Graduate Assistants. It is not feasible for UF to pay close attention to all of their individual concerns. Without GAU, many of these concerns would probably go ignored. But thanks to GAU’s legal status as a labor union, when GAU voices concerns on behalf of Graduate Assistants, UF must listen to us. Labor unions also put workers on equal footing with management. When GAU negotiates with UF administration on issues important to GAs, we’re able to fight directly for the workplace protections we deserve.
Does every workplace have a labor union?
No. A labor union must go through a certification process in order to be legally recognized. Private sector labor unions are under the purview of the National Labor Relations Board, while state public sector employee unions are recognized by state government labor boards. In Florida, this board is called the Public Employee Relations Commission.
What is the process for becoming a union?
Certification processes vary between private and public sector, and between states within the public sector. The basic ingredients are getting a certain percent of employees to sign cards stating that they want union representation, and then holding an election where all employees can vote on whether they want union representation, and if multiple unions are competing to be that representative, which union will do the representing. If the election favors the union, the results go to the board (PERC in Florida), who then certifies the results and recognizes the union.
Who can join GAU and how do I join?
All graduate assistants, including teaching and research assistants, are eligible to join GAU and will remain members during continuous GA employment until graduation. If you are not employed as a GA for consecutive semesters for any reason, such as the loss of funding or acceptance of a fellowship, you must re-join GAU upon being rehired as a GA.
Joining is easy! Simply fill out the membership form or stop by our office at Yon Hall 224 (above gate 14 of the stadium) during our open hours to speak with a GAU member about joining. While there, pick up your free T-shirt and GAU garb!
Is Graduate Assistants United a Student Organization?
No. We have no formal connection with the University of Florida, Student Government, Graduate Student Council, or any other campus student organization. We receive no money from tuition or fees that students pay to UF. Our sole source of income is the dues money that our members pay.
What are membership dues and where do they go?
Dues-paying members are automatically deducted 1% of their paycheck, which is typically only the price of a fancy cup of coffee once a week! Most of your dues go to GAU's state and national affiliates, who provide staff and legal support in contract negotiation and enforcement and lobby the state and federal government. The rest is returned to our local UF GAU chapter to support our operations. Additionally, only dues-paying members are able to receive certain member benefits as well as legal guidance during the grievance procedure.
I’ve heard that Florida is a “right to work” state. What does that mean?
In some states, all employees at a workplace are automatically made members of (and pay dues to) whatever union represents the employees. But in Florida and some other states, employees do not have to join and pay dues to the union in order to gain the contractual benefits provided by one. This results in weaker unions since people who are not members are allowed to “free ride” on the benefits that the dues-paying members contribute to achieving. Weaker unions typically mean weaker rights and fewer benefits for employees, meaning that “right to work” really means “right to work for less”!
Will Graduate Assistants United ever go on strike?
No. It is illegal for public sector employees to go on strike in the state of Florida.