Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate Student Unionization

Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate Student Unionization

What is a union?

A union is an association of employees formed to negotiate with their employer with respect to matters regarding terms and conditions of employment, including pay, hours, and other employment-related conditions. The union is the exclusive negotiating agent, meaning no other individual, body, or organization is permitted to work with the employer on matters relating to employment.

Union representatives negotiate with employers through a mechanism called collective bargaining. The results of this process are contained in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and both parties are bound by the terms of this contract during its term or until a new CBA is in place. The union remains the exclusive representative for members of the bargaining unit until and unless (1) the union disavows interest in representing the unit, or (2) bargaining unit members voluntarily sign a petition seeking to decertify the union (after which a vote would be taken).

Can international students be represented by a union?

Yes. All students who are part of the bargaining unit are represented by the union. This includes international students. Membership in the union has no impact on immigration status or visa conditions. Individuals who are not "members" of the union are still exclusively represented by the union and bound by the terms of the CBA.

What are union dues?

Union dues are a fee charged to bargaining unit members by the union and are calculated by the union to cover the costs of the union representation work, including contract negotiation, administration, and disputes. The dues may be a flat rate or a percentage of wages. They may also be used for the purpose of organizing at other employers and for making political contributions. Unions may seek to require non-union members to contribute an "agency fee" (sometimes called "fair-share" fee), typically a small percentage less than full dues, which is calculated by the union.

Will I have to pay union dues?

Unions normally seek to require that all members of the bargaining unit pay dues or an agency fee. Although we do not know the exact amount, at other schools this is around $500/year, or up to 2% of the stipend.

What is the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth – United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (GOLD-UE)?

GOLD is an organization of graduate students at Dartmouth that voted in July 2022 to become affiliated with the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, and is now known as GOLD-UE.

What is the unionization process?

Step 1: Union Authorization Cards
Union authorization cards are written declarations signed by members of the potential collective bargaining unit in support of forming a union. The authorization cards are collected as part of a unionization drive to demonstrate interest in having a union serve as the exclusive bargaining agent for the collective unit. The union must present cards from at least 30% of the proposed bargaining unit to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to request a secretballot election. Once an authorization card is signed, , the union can use it to show sufficient interest in unionization to seek the NLRB election; however signatories are free to vote however they wish in the election.

Step 2: Representation Petition
Once the union has received signed authorization cards from at least 30% of the proposed bargaining unit they may send a formal request to the NLRB to determine by secret-ballot election whether a majority of individuals in the proposed bargaining unit wish to be exclusively represented by a union for the purposes of collective bargaining. The NLRB region representing New Hampshire is Region 1: Boston.

The employer is required to provide information about those in the proposed bargaining unit to the NLRB in response to any petition for representation that is filed. The union will also have access to this information, which includes job classification, names, addresses, cell phone numbers, and personal email addresses.

Step 3: Elections
Once a preliminary investigation has concluded that there is sufficient evidence indicating support for unionization for an appropriate bargaining unit, the NLRB Regional Director would direct a secret-ballot election to be held on a specific date within specific hours at accessible points on campus. The election would permit graduate students to exercise their free choice, respecting their privacy in an environment free of coercion or pressure.

The NLRB representatives would oversee all aspects of the secret-ballot election, the outcome of which would be decided by a simple majority. This means if 100 out of 800 eligible students voted, the result for all 800 would be determined by 51 voters. As in political elections, those who do not vote leave their fate in the hands of those who do.

Step 4: Election Results
If the majority voted against union representation, after certification of the election a new election could not be held for one year. As is true currently, without a union as the elected representative, Dartmouth would be able to continue working with individuals, groups, and other bodies, including the Graduate Student Council, on matters regarding stipends, benefits, and other issues relating to research and training.

If the majority voted for union representation, after certification of the election union representatives would enter into collective bargaining process to determine the collective bargaining agreement, which both parties would be legally bound to honor. The union would be in place for at least one year, in accordance with the NLRB ruling, and can only thereafter be changed or removed through a decertification process involving the NLRB.

What is a collective bargaining unit?

A collective bargaining unit is a group of employees whose terms of employment share a community of interest, and who are represented exclusively by the union in employer-worker negotiations over the terms and conditions of employment.

Is the formation of a graduate student union at Dartmouth beneficial?

Dartmouth feels that unionization is counterproductive to addressing the needs of our graduate students. Over the years, Dartmouth and the Graduate Student Council have had a productive and successful partnership in advocating for graduate student needs, and this collaboration has produced a number of positive results including stipend increases, policy revisions, decreases to health benefits costs, expansion of graduate housing, and improvements in mental health support. We feel that collective bargaining may actually slow down our ability to respond quickly and decisively to situations that arise; the process may also introduce additional costs, time, and bureaucracy to making decisions that directly affect graduate students.

GOLD-UE has a website presenting their perspective at:

Can faculty mentors and staff discuss unionization with their students?

Yes, Dartmouth is committed to free speech and faculty and staff are free to discuss their opinions about unions, or experiences with unions, with students. 

What is not appropriate is TIPS: Threats to students about action that might be taken because of their unionization; Interrogation of students about their thoughts or intentions with respect to unionization or voting; Promises of things that will be granted if students do not unionize; and surveillance of students in order to determine who might be working with or for the unionization process.

Could the hours I spend in the lab or in the field on my research be limited?

Yes, it is possible that the collective bargaining process could result in a limit on the number of hours a graduate student could spend in a lab or in the field related to their compensated employment.

What is the current support provided to Dartmouth graduate students?

All PhD and a number of master's students at Dartmouth receive a stipend to help offset the cost of living. For the 2023 academic year, this is $35,196, and the Guarini School has requested support to increase this 13.6% to $40,000 for 2024. For the ~800 stipend-receiving students, Dartmouth also pays for the student health plan ($4,163/year); the health access fee ($412/year); and for international students, the international student fee ($428/year).

Stipend-receiving graduate students also receive full tuition scholarships, which for a year (four terms) total $80,916.

PhD students normally receive this support for five years, so altogether Dartmouth invests about $600,000 in training each graduating doctoral student.

What is the source of stipend support for graduate students?

Stipends at Dartmouth are funded from various sources. In AY22, graduate students received about 700 12-month stipend equivalents, totaling more than $22 million.

About $10.9 million of this funding came from either Guarini School's ~200 Dartmouth Fellowships (DFs) or other internal funds such as faculty startup accounts or departmental and faculty reserve accounts.

Over half of stipend funding came from external grants, including individual or program training grants ($1.3 million) and research grants to faculty ($9.9 million).

How does Dartmouth support international graduate students?

Dartmouth pays the international student fee ($428/year) for stipend-receiving students.

Dartmouth's Office of Visa and Immigration Services (OVIS) hosts at least three bus trips each fall term, and one bus trip in the winter term, to the Social Security Administration office in Concord, and provides additional resources regarding the Social Security Number application process:

OVIS provides access to Sprintax tax preparation software and hosts a tax workshop with a tax attorney each winter term. OVIS staff are not authorized to give specific advice or assist with tax filing preparation. OVIS provides resources about U.S. taxes on their website:

OVIS provides resources for obtaining a NH or VT state driver's license:

OVIS provides immigration documents for dependent family members of students (spouses and children under 21). OVIS is not authorized to provide immigration assistance to individuals outside of our sponsorship. See:

OVIS provides one-to-one immigration advising to all international students, as well as regular workshops and Q&As on topics such as curricular practical training (CPT), optional practical training (OPT), and visa options after graduation. OVIS is not authorized to give legal advice but can provide immigration attorney referrals upon request for such matters as U.S. permanent residence, criminal issues, asylum, DACA, and immigration assistance for family members (parents, siblings, etc.).

What mechanisms are currently available at Dartmouth for graduate student advocacy?

The Council on Graduate Studies (CGS) meets quarterly and comprises faculty representatives from each of the graduate programs overseen by the Guarini School, the president and vice president of the GSC, and Guarini School dean and assistant deans.

The Guarini School dean and assistant deans meet monthly with GSC leadership.

The assistant dean for Graduate Student Affairs meets regularly with the GSC, and liaises with the GSC Executive Board and the Guarini School deans.

Two representatives from the GSC leadership board sit on the Student Liaison Committee, a group of student leaders that meets regularly with Dartmouth senior leadership (including the provost and executive vice president) and the Board of Trustees Committee on the Student Experience.

How are graduate students supported financially? Does this represent a "living wage"?

Dartmouth provides graduate students with stipends to help offset the cost of living expenses while students are enrolled as students in their programs of study and training. In contrast, other students at Dartmouth, including MD, MBA, MEM, MPH, many MS, and of course, undergraduate students, do not receive stipends and are also charged tuition. With health insurance, fees, and tuition factored in, stipend-receiving graduate students receive about $120,000/year in support, and, of course, also receive a PhD or MS degree upon the successful completion of their studies.

While Dartmouth does not consider stipends to be only a wage, the MIT Living Wage Calculator indicates that for Grafton County the "living wage" is $33,424/year. Graduate students currently receive a stipend of $35,196/year and also have health insurance paid for by Dartmouth. The stipend is currently planned to increase to $40,000/year in July 2023.

Would a union change the grievance process available to graduate students?

While the union would likely negotiate for a formal grievance process, it may not ultimately be more effective than the current process available to students, which has been revised, clarified, and expanded in recent years. The current process in place starts with informal resolution, but if this is inappropriate for the situation or fails to resolve it, students have access to their research advisory committees, the Guarini deans, the Title IX Office, the office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, the Dartmouth ombuds office, and the offices of the faculty deans, to assist them though the process and resolve any situations that arises.

Would a union affect the manner in which the Graduate Student Council advocates for
Dartmouth students?

The union would be the sole authority and exclusive agent empowered to negotiate with Dartmouth for issues related to compensation, hours worked, and other conditions of employment. In the past, the GSC has worked effectively with Dartmouth on reviewing and addressing some of these issues, but it would no longer be able to do so.

What is FERPA?
Dartmouth's FERPA Policy and an explanation of FERPA may be found at this link.
How do I challenge the release of my information? I don't want it released.
It is generally up to students to challenge the release of their information in the event of a lawfully issued subpoena, as FERPA allows for the release of information without a student's consent in response to a lawfully issued subpoena.  The National Labor Relations Board issued Dartmouth a subpoena pursuant to its authority under 29 U.S.C. § 161(1) for the purpose of processing GOLD-UE's February 24 petition and conducting an election. Dartmouth is obligated to notify the student of the release of non-directory information pursuant to a lawfully issued subpoena and provide a reasonable amount of time for the student to seek a protective order. Students seeking to prevent the release of the information listed in this communication may retain their own legal counsel and seek relief from a court. Dartmouth's FERPA Policy and an explanation of FERPA may be found at this link.
Why has my information been subpoenaed and by whom?  How will the information be used?  
This subpoena was issued by the National Labor Relations Board.  The information contained in the subpoena is required as part of the NLRB's established process for reviewing GOLD-UE's February 24 petition and conducting an election, and will be used by the NLRB in that process.  (The rules for this process can be found at 29 C.F.R. Part 102 Subpart D.)  This information is also considered student information contained in "education records" protected by FERPA.  The NLRB has requested this information via a valid subpoena conferring the authority to obtain the information contained in student education records.  
Can schools comply with a subpoena without my consent?
When Dartmouth receives a validly issued subpoena or court order seeking personally identifiable information in a student's education records , Dartmouth will attempt to notify the student involved, unless prohibited by the terms of the subpoena or court order. If the student does not then take legal action to invalidate the subpoena or court order, Dartmouth may disclose this information to comply with the subpoena or court order, in accordance with FERPA regulations and Dartmouth's policy, without seeking further consent from the student. Dartmouth's FERPA Policy and an explanation of FERPA may be found at this link.