BU Graduate Workers Union

Frequently-Asked Questions

If you have questions or concerns that aren’t addressed here, reach out to your friendly neighborhood union representative.

A graduate worker union is an organization of graduate students who teach, research, and perform other essential jobs at a university. Thanks to us, the university generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from tuition and research grants. Unionizing gives us the power to negotiate our working conditions, because the university cannot function without our collective labor.

When we ask for dental insurance or increased wages individually, the university ignores us. When we all demand better working conditions together, we disrupt the status quo, and the university cannot ignore us. Collective bargaining is the process in which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health, and safety policies.

We can only win a strong contract if we work together. United, we bargain; divided, we beg.


A union contract is a legally binding agreement, known as a “collective bargaining agreement,” formed between the labor union and the employer, that codifies commitments from the employer about wages, working conditions, and rights on the job. After we win our union, we will have the right to negotiate a union contract with BU, and bring the issues we care most about to the bargaining table.

Union dues are regular contributions we make to fund the important functions of our union, like representing graduate workers who have workplace issues and negotiating new contracts. None of us will pay any union dues until a formal contract is negotiated with BU and approved by a democratic vote of graduate workers. After successfully negotiating a contract and ratifying it with a vote, graduate workers who join the union will begin paying dues at a rate of 1.5% of our compensation. It is unlikely that our colleagues would choose to vote to approve a contract that included lower raises than the cost of our dues. This means that, while union members will contribute a small portion of our compensation to the union, the benefits of having a union will already far outweigh the cost of the dues!

It is illegal for the university to retaliate against its workers for unionizing. Workers’ right to unionize is federally protected by the National Labor Relations Act. You cannot be fired, disciplined, or discriminated against in any way for participating in the union. In fact, it can be illegal for the University to even ask you about your support for or participation in the union.

Our union contract will be negotiated between graduate workers and the BU administration, not faculty. In general, faculty do not set our pay, benefits, or working conditions. While we encourage every worker to be public about their support (see, for example, the union representatives page) your support for the union can be completely private; you can sign a membership card and support the union without your advisor knowing at all. As shown by the many faculty and staff that signed the community support letter, many faculty advisors are supportive of our right to unionize because it means that their advisees will be teaching and doing research under better conditions.

No! There has never been a grad worker union contract that has decreased graduate salaries, and we do not plan on changing that. All grad workers deserve a salary they can thrive on regardless of department, and we plan to fight for higher minimum salaries across the board, along with universal summer pay and better benefits for all. After we win our union and negotiate a contract with the university, graduate workers must vote to ratify the final agreement, and it is unlikely that our colleagues would vote to approve a contract that includes any decrease in current salaries.

No. As a member of the union, you are BUGWU. You have a say in how BUGWU is run, and we all strive to make decisions democratically and with great care.

Striking is the workers’ most powerful weapon, and not to be taken lightly. That’s why it generally requires a majority vote to authorize a strike, and often unions choose to strike only with a strong super majority. But if we do decide to strike, we would need everyone’s help to make it as effective as possible.

Ultimately, it is the workers in the union who chose whether to strike, and our choice alone. No staff member, lawyer, or anyone outside of our bargaining unit can force us to strike.