Today’s unionization FYI: bargaining units.
From the NLRB’s “Basic Guide to the National Labor Relations Act” (link found at end of post) a bargaining unit is defined as ” A unit of employees is a group of two or more employees who share a community of interest and may reasonably be grouped together for purposes of collective bargaining.” A union, if formed, represents the members of the bargaining unit for the purposes of collective bargaining. People who are in the bargaining unit do not have to be members of the union, but the union has to negotiate for the entire bargaining unit, not just members of the union.
Who would be included in a bargaining unit here at Princeton? The Columbia decision allows students who are working as “assistants” and are performing work in exchange for pay to be able to organize and join a union. By us here at PUIC, this has been interpreted to mean that AR’s and AI’s have the legal right to unionize, while students on fellowship (at least under the Columbia decision) do not have a legal right to unionize. A new decision from the NLRB could modify this. Also, although the University is legally required to recognize a union of AR’s and AI’s, it seems that the University also has the right to recognize a union that includes fellowship students if it chooses to, although it is not required to as it is for AI’s and AR’s.
What about union dues and agency fees? Union dues are what union members have to pay to the union to be members. This money goes towards costs associated with bargaining and representation, paying the national and state union affiliates, office space, staff, etc. As was discussed earlier in this post, members of the bargaining unit do not have to become union members. One may think, “sweet, if I’m in the bargaining unit I get all the benefits of union negotiations without having to actually join the union and pay anything!” However, New Jersey is one of the twenty-something states that allow unions to collect what are known as “agency fees”. These are fees that a union can charge to members of the bargaining unit that don’t join the union, since the union is still representing these people. The amount of agency fees are the portion of union dues that cover the cost and only the cost of representing the bargaining unit member; at other graduate student unions, union dues are usually $300-$500, and the amount of the agency fee is usually 80-90% the amount of union dues. So if a union forms, if you’re a part of the bargaining unit, you’re still going to be paying money to the union, whether you want to or not.
A prospective union, when filing for an election, proposes a bargaining unit, which is then discussed between the prospective union, the employer, and the NLRB. The NLRB has final say on the appropriateness of a bargaining unit. PGSU has not yet firmly declared what they expect the proposed bargaining unit to be, but in the past they have indicated their desire to have as large, wide, and diverse a bargaining unit as possible.