Here is a list of misleading claims often made by union supporters to gain support. (They are discussed in greater detail under “Six Arguments”.)
- Academic experience: Union will not disrupt your academic experience.
There several ways the union will be and already has been disruptive to our academic experience. If the union forms, union organizers’ intrusive organizing activities at your offices, classrooms, dining halls, dorm rooms, libraries, apartments, and labs will continue. They will come back again and again whenever there is an election, a vote, a survey, a contract renewal, a protest, a strike, and so on. If the union goes on strike you will be expected to participate and if you do, you will not be allowed to make progress on your research or do work for classes you teach. You may not be paid and could lose your benefits while the union is on strike. Studies on the effect of unionization on the relationship between students and the faculty are not unbiased scholarship but rather tools intended to promote a particular political viewpoint. (See the footnote 5 in Page 6.)
- Benefits 1: No compromises are necessary.
Union supporters claim that the student union will not seek a “one-size-fits-all” approach that would tend to help certain students at the expense of others. At the same time, they claim that the union can fix disparities across various programs in the University. In a financially constrained environment, these claims are incompatible. Such compromises are necessary and may result in increase in tuition, reduction in financial aid, and decrease in the number of students admitted, just to name a few.
- Benefits 2: Union can win substantially greater benefits for students.
Given that the likelihood of students deciding to go on strike is small (due to its significant negative impacts on students), the union will have little power during negotiation. If Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers’ (HUTCW) two years long negotiation and HUDS union’s strike did not result in substantially greater health benefits (such as free dental), then on what basis could students expect significant increase in benefits? Where will the money come from to cover the extra expenses? Union supporters are quite evasive on these questions.
- Late pay: Union can solve late paycheck problem.
This is obviously a serious problem that needs to be fixed. Union supporters claim that a union can fix it. How would it accomplish this? If you get a late payment, you may complain to your union representative. What would happen thereafter? Would you get your payment immediately? There are plenty of cases where workers are not paid by their employers in a timely manner as members of a union. There is no reason to think that having a union will automatically fix this problem immediately. There is no mention about timely payment in the NYU contract.
- More protections: Union can provide more protections against abuse and discrimination.
The union’s grievance procedure will not be materially different from what the current University procedure is as exemplified in many graduate student union contracts including the collective bargaining agreement at NYU. There appears to be no empirical evidence that shows the existence of a student union and increased reporting rate of abuse and discrimination such as sexual assaults. There are already existing procedures for resolving complaints regarding the workload and it would be difficult to use union’s grievance procedure in practice.
- Strike: You won’t have to go on strike.
Union organizers claim that the proposed student union can choose how they go on strike. Say, at first a small group of Teaching Fellows would stop submitting grades. If the University doesn’t budge, then more students will go on strike. And so on. The legality of such strike can be contended before the NLRB and it turned out to be unlawful, then the University can discipline students that go on strike by taking actions such as dismissing them from their current positions. Given that the likelihood of students deciding to go on strike is small (due to its significant negative impacts on students), the union will have little power during negotiation.
- Union dues: Union dues will be covered by the wage increase.
Union supporters claim that union dues will be covered by an increase in wages. For example, if the annual union dues rate is 1.44% of paycheck and students receive 2.5% average annual pay increase, then the union would negotiate a contract that would increase students’ pay by 3.94% so that it covers union dues. The organizers point to the NYU student union contract but the claimed 4% wage increase is false. The union contract provided students $500 in cash during the first year of the contract but kept the usual 2.5% rate. This means the NYU students are experiencing effective pay increase of only 1.06% instead of the 2.5% that would have been enjoyed in the absence of a union contract.
- Union power: With a union, students can force the University to open its books and tell how it should spend its money.
There appears to be a serious misconception among many union supporters about how much influence a union could have over the University administrators’ decisions on how they spend the University’s money. They say “During bargaining, we’ll get access to the university’s finances and be able to see for ourselves how Harvard’s money is being spent.” This is false. The University is not legally obligated to share its finances with a union. (They can, however, request limited information relevant to collective bargaining such as how individual students are compensated.) Anything other than the terms and conditions of employment such as whom to hire is outside the scope of union’s right to negotiate. No, a union cannot tell the University how to spend its money.