Common UAW Talking Points
The University has $600 million in "unrestricted" funds
This money technically is "unrestricted" but not "un-committed." In other words, the Department Heads, Deans or Board of Regents would need to un-commit these funds from their current purpose, which would result in a shortfall elsewhere.
Purposes for these funds include startup grants to new faculty members, building and renovation funds, as well as many other projects. The new hire of a faculty member is a particularly useful example. A new faculty member starting in CSE can receive roughly $1M in startup grants from the University. It is rare that the faculty member will spend that in the first year, so the University's balance sheet will carry the unspent amount of "unrestricted" money forward until the new faculty hire spends it.
The example of a new building given above is very similar to the new faculty hire -- the University generally needs to set aside funds in advance to start building, and thus a large portion of the $600 M will go to the new buildings around campus.
There are many other ways that this money has been allocated, and while it is true that the Board of Regents can reallocate this money, none of the unions already on campus has succeeded in accomplishing this. Given that the money is likely committed, the UAW organizers should tell us which of the currently funded programs should be cut so that we can receive raises or fee waivers.
The Union at the University of Washington secured a 23% pay increase
This claim has been repeated several times, but without any data to support it. When we investigated by contacting the University of Washington directly, we found that the sum of the pay increases they received since 2004 equals about 15%. Additionally, the UW grads will not receive wage increases at least until 2014. The increase in stipends at the University of Minnesota varies across the departments, but in general our pay increases over the same time frame are larger than theirs. Our starting pay was also larger, meaning that we still get paid more than the University of Washington. Our pay increases have occurred because the University sees our contribution and understands that they are required to keep us happy. Factoring in union dues, almost everyone at this university makes more than their counterparts at UW.
We need to bargain directly with the University for conditions of employment
This is definitely the only concrete change, besides the fees, that a union could change. We would no longer deal with our own departments. Control over the negotiations would shift over to the union and the University. This is not a benefit, as the union organizers claim because we have previously worked well with our departments and schools individually. For example, when the CSE was planning on imposing an additional fee, many graduate students complained, and ultimately blocked these fees. This was a result of students, professors and department heads working together to find ways to avoid enacting these fees.
We have no representation when the University chooses health care
Frequently union organizers will state that the previous move between health care providers was done without students' consent and the costs for dependent care rose after the switch. The claim that the dependent care costs rose is true, however the claim about the switch being made without input from graduate students is false. A panel that included graduate students recommended the switch in health care providers, and also recommended that graduate students with dependents be charged more for their health care. Their reasoning was that this made it cheaper for graduate students without dependents, who make up the majority of graduate students. Whether or not you agree with this decision, the decision was made with graduate student input.
The University does not have our best interests at heart
We do not dispute that the University has a bottom line. However, the University's bottom line is intricately tied to our satisfaction as graduate students. We do not find this connection to be as strong in the case of the UAW.
A union could protect students from unfair treatment by the University
This is partially true. A union could function as a grievance mechanism for graduate students. However, as can be seen in the existing policies section, the University already has an effective grievance procedure. More importantly, if a graduate student were to have a conflict within the union, there would be no recourse for the student. The University would be forbidden by law from intervening.
Furthermore, we find it to be strange to ask for a union's representation where a problem does not seem to exist. The organizers point to the potential of abuse and this is absolutely true. Potential for abuse does not, however, constitute abuse. A union seems to be a solution looking for a problem.
A union could secure pay raises for graduate students
Pay raises have been highly touted in other schools where unionization has occurred, but looking closely at the numbers a different story emerges. In fact, most of these schools pay their students less than what we receive from the University (even excluding the mandatory dues they pay). The probability of getting further pay increases for us is dependent on both the school's ability to pay for these items, and the union's ability to strike.
We already have seen that the University has forced other unionized employees to accept layoffs, furloughs, and pay freezes. It does not seem legitimate to say the UAW will be able to succeed where AFSCME and many other large unions have failed.
The strike issue is something that almost never gets brought up and it is intimately tied to the previous point. Graduate students will not strike unless the University behaves in an uncharacteristically egregious fashion. This fact renders any union toothless in negotiations. A strike is the singular source of power that the UAW would hold over the University, and in our case it would not be a source of power at all.