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Guidance for Faculty Related to Graduate Student Unionization

In the context of a graduate student unionization effort or campaign, deans, department chairs, graduate group chairs, and faculty members who direct graduate students are considered “supervisors” by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Supervisors may freely express their views about graduate student unionization. However, the NLRB offers the acronym “TIPS” to indicate that supervisors may not: 

  • Make threats of harm to graduate students;
  • Interrogate or question graduate students;
  • Make promises of benefit to graduate students; or 
  • Spy on or place under surveillance graduate students or union meetings, or otherwise conduct themselves so as to give the impression that they are watching graduate students to find out about their union activities.

In addition, supervisors may not, per the NLRB:

  1. Ask a graduate student to report on union activities;
  2. Discipline a graduate student because of their union support or union-organizing activities. The University may, however, enforce its rules impartially and in accordance with customary action, irrespective of a graduate student’s union support or union-organizing activities. Discipline is appropriate as long as such action follows customary practice and is done without regard to union support or union-organizing activities. Such action should not normally be taken, however, without checking in advance with the appropriate graduate group chair and/or associate dean.

Per the NLRB, it is permissible for supervisors to:

  1. Emphasize the importance of voting if an election is held and point out that the matter will be decided by a majority of those who actually vote;
  2. State their position on union representation;
  3. State the reasons why they have taken such a position so long as those reasons are not threats or promises;
  4. Point out the importance of the union representation issue;
  5. Discuss the financial obligations, such as dues, which graduate students may have to assume if they were represented by a union;
  6. Tell graduate students the facts about any experience they may have had with unions;
  7. Tell graduate students that, in collective bargaining, neither side is required to agree to what the other side wants, although the parties must bargain in good faith;
  8. Discuss the secret ballot election that may be conducted by the NLRB and the facts that no one need ever know how a person voted and that even those people who sign union authorization cards are under no obligation (legal or otherwise) to vote for the union;
  9. Direct graduate students to places where they can find answers to their questions.