Information for Faculty

We’ve compiled a list of common questions our graduate organizers have received from our conversations with faculty members, and want to ensure faculty have the answers they need to have an informed opinion and support their advisees appropriately.

What is a graduate student union?

A graduate student union is a democratic organization of PhD student workers at JHU which represents our interests and collectively negotiates over wages and working conditions.

What are graduate students hoping to bargain for?

A living wage for all, guaranteed on-time payment, support for international students, fair grievance procedures, safe transportation and workplaces, and a commitment to the city of Baltimore are our top issues. You can read more below about other issues within the scope of graduate worker union contracts.

Why do a supermajority of students at JHU support forming a union, instead of negotiating for changes through existing departmental or university channels?

Many of us have worked for years through existing channels in failed attempts to make the positive changes we now seek through a union. Forming a collective bargaining unit will allow graduate workers at JHU to have a guaranteed seat at the negotiating table with university administrators, and we hope that it will bring about positive changes that will benefit not only graduate workers, but also the university as a whole.

Will the union make it harder for me to work with my advisee?

No. In many ways, you can expect the opposite to be true. A recent study found that “Union-represented graduate student employees report higher levels of personal and professional support, unionized graduate student employees fare better on pay, and unionized and nonunionized students report similar perceptions of academic freedom.” All graduate workers have the opportunity to give input and vote on their new contract, and have no desire to draft or ratify any policies that would impede their progress on the research they came to graduate school to conduct.

How will the union contract be negotiated?

If a majority of graduate students who vote in the upcoming elections vote “yes” to forming a union, a representative group of graduate workers from across the university will be elected to our Bargaining Committee. Once established, the Bargaining Committee will negotiate the contract with Johns Hopkins based on the priorities set by a bargaining survey and ongoing communication with union members. 

After the Bargaining Committee is formed, the bargaining process plays at out as follows:  

  1. Bargaining survey 
  2. Proposal drafting 
  3. Proposal feedback 
  4. Negotiation with JHU administration 
  5. Ratification 

The timeline to ratification of a contract depends on many factors. Graduate students at JHU hope to codify and guarantee their rights and benefits as soon as possible through ratifying a contract, but the process typically takes several rounds of back-and-forth negotiations with the university before union members approve a contract. The hope is to ratify a contract as soon as possible, but the bargaining committee would continue negotiating as long as it takes to arrive at a contract that finds support from a majority of its members.

Would JHU’s graduate worker union contract be part of a larger union?

Like several other graduate worker unions (e.g., MIT, University of Chicago, University of Iowa), JHU PhD students filed their union petition under the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). UE is a democratically run rank-and-file union, which means that the JHU graduate student union is run by its graduate student members. This democratic structure is one of the most important reasons why JHU’s graduate students have chosen to partner with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)! 

Would a union mean that the status of PhD students at JHU will change? 

No. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that graduate workers at private universities like JHU are already employees (as opposed to students), and therefore have collective bargaining rights (e.g., the right to form a union). If graduate workers at JHU succeed in forming a union, any and all changes to their experience at JHU would be negotiated directly in the contract.

What might graduate students at JHU expect to negotiate through their union contract?

Below are summaries and full text of graduate union contracts from other universities, many of them JHU peers (*indicates a private university, similar to JHU).  

I am faculty here at JHU, and I’d like to know more about the union, but I’m not sure what or who I’m able to ask. How can I get more information? 

Faculty are encouraged to reach out to Department Organizers in their departments.

What should I keep in mind when talking about the union?

There are appropriate and legal ways for students and faculty to exchange information about the union process, as through conversations with organizers linked above. There are also potential pitfalls to be aware of. Faculty members cannot ask graduate workers if they belong to the union, and cannot make threats or promises about what could happen as a result of unionization. It is also illegal to treat union members and non-union members differently, now or in the future, or to imply that you might do so.

If you still have questions but are unsure what you are allowed to ask and of whom, the National Labor Relations Board’s page about Employer/Union Rights and Obligations is a useful resource:

So long as they do not do so in a threatening or coercive manner, faculty do have the right to make clear their opinion about the union, whether supportive or against. Because of the inherent power differential between faculty and graduate students, it can be extremely difficult to avoid coercive dynamics in these conversations, and so we advise faculty members not to initiate them.

How can I support the union?

Graduate union organizers encourage faculty to sign the Johns Hopkins Faculty Neutrality Pledge, which ​​asks faculty to affirm a recognition of the legal rights of graduate workers to association and unionization. Due to the multifaceted, imbalanced relationship between graduate workers and faculty members, many students understand faculty’s legal obligation to remain neutral on the issue of unionization in the abstract, but in practice feel much more comfortable exercising their legal right to organize once faculty have stated they will abide by the law.