What is an agency shop and why are dues important?

Learn more about an agency shop and dues on this page.


Read the op-ed

We’re Unionizing to Build a Better USC — and Union Dues are a Critical Part of Our Mission

I’ve been a proud, dues-paying union member for the past 6 years. Pooling our financial resources together in the form of union dues allows us to build power independent from the employer. It’s a crucial expression of solidarity that helps us improve working conditions and win workplace dignity, as well as support new union drives for unorganized workers all over the country.

Yunyi Li

Cinema and Media Studies Teaching Fellow, UCLA, UAW 2865

I pay dues as an act of care that supports me, my colleagues, and my community. Dues are collective power, and collective power is the foundation of a strong union!

Koby Ljunggren

Teaching Fellow and Research Assistant in Biophysics, Harvard Graduate Students Union – UAW 5118

Frequently Asked Questions

What are dues? Why are they important?

Dues are union members’ financial contribution to the operation of the union and to the union’s capacity to advocate for change. Membership dues are important because they provide the resources necessary for our union to be effective. Dues are critical for providing us with independent resources that are not controlled by the University: GSWs will use them to ensure we have appropriate legal, bargaining, community and staff support to support all Grad Student Workers. Dues are also important in that they allow GSWs to pool our resources and level the playing field – USC takes in billions of dollars in revenue every year, and employs a billion dollar law firm to handle its employment disputes.

What is an agency shop? Why do GSWs need one here at USC?

An agency shop describes a workplace where workers democratically decide that all workers benefitting from the union contract pay dues, or an agency fee. An agency shop means that workers have the resources necessary to organize effectively, enforce our contract equitably, and bargain future contracts successfully.

Why does USC not want us to have an agency shop?

Preventing workers from maintaining an agency shop shifts the balance of power and resources in the favor of the employer. Because employers such as USC have access to a great deal of institutional power, wealth, and legal resources, it is in the employer’s best interest to dilute workers’ bargaining and organizational power. Here at USC, where the administration has enjoyed unilateral power over academic working conditions for over 100 years, an agency shop would mean that GSWs would be able to use our democratic voice to create real change.

Are agency shops common?

Yes. Despite the efforts of many right-wing, company-backed politicians to pass laws preventing workers from choosing to maintain an agency shop, agency shops are incredibly common. Many academic worker unions at private universities have chosen agency shops, including NYU and MIT. In fact, right here at USC, the union of medical Interns and Residents at Keck Hospital maintain an agency shop.

In California, private-sector workers have the right to choose an agency shop. Across the state, workers are choosing to exercise this right because they know an agency shop is the best way to build a strong union that can win improvements at the bargaining table.

How much are dues?

UAW membership dues are currently 1.44% of gross monthly income and can only be increased by membership action (the membership in a few local unions, for example, have voted to increase dues above 1.44% to have more resources). Under the UAW, there is also a one-time initiation fee, which ranges from $10 to $50 and is determined democratically in union bylaws.

When will dues go into effect?

As part of the UAW, GSWs would not pay dues until we have voted to approve our first contract. The process for paying union dues will also be decided on democratically, and is subject to ongoing contract negotiations with USC. At other universities with graduate student worker unions, dues are paid through a payroll deduction.

Under an agency shop, will everyone have to pay union dues?

No one can be required to become a member of GSWOC-UAW and pay union dues. However, because everyone in the bargaining unit must receive all of the benefits of the contract, with an agency shop, non-members would be required to pay a comparable “fair share” fee: 1.17% of gross pay. This is because union contracts must benefit everyone and everyone is entitled equal protections. GSWs want an agency shop because it would allow us to pool our resources and enforce our contract!

Where will my dues money go?

See the below “Dues in Action” section!

Dues in Action

Most of the work of enforcing the contract and representing membership is financially supported by the Local Union (in our case, GSWOC-UAW). Local Union expenses throughout the year are approved by a democratically elected Executive Board. Generally, local unions draft and approve a budget at the start of each year. Elected trustees also audit the union’s income and expenditures twice annually.

Examples of how Local Unions use dues:

  • Educating new employees about their rights and the union
  • Contract negotiations
  • Advising members in difficult situations and supporting them through contract enforcement grievances
  • Events, including educational seminars on topics like visa and immigration rights, healthcare, and taxes
  • Advocacy for public policy that support higher education, research, and international students

The local union may also receive an additional “rebate” if the Strike and Defense fund is over $500M. 

26% of dues goes to the International Union’s General Fund

The General Fund provides additional technical support for contract negotiations and helps other workers successfully form unions (including GSWOC – UAW). Some of the ways International Union dues will support USC GSWs include:

  • Providing experienced negotiators, researchers, and legal help to aid USC GSWs in achieving their goals at the bargaining table
  • Legal advice and advocacy to impact policy makers, especially those in Washington, DC. For example, in 2020 UAW joined an amicus brief that helped stop the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office from imposing a rule that would have prevented International Students from being enrolled in U.S. Universities that had switched to primarily remote learning.
  • Guidance on grievance and arbitrations. For example, UAW International aided UC Berkeley Teaching Assistants in winning millions of dollars in unpaid tuition remission.
  • Helping to win political support for our priorities as GSWs. See, for example, this letter to UC from Katie Porter and 29 other members of the California Congressional Delegation calling on UC to recognize the newly formed UC Student Researcher union.

In addition, dues help support new organizing campaigns. For example, the organizing staff and legal support for the GSWOC – UAW campaign is paid by current UAW members’ dues. Also, union dues have gone towards legal and organizing resources that have have been key to major victories for academic workers including:

  • the landmark NLRB decision extending collective bargaining rights to Graduate Employees at private universities such as USC, as well as the organizing resources that led to the subsequent representation election victory of Columbia University Graduate Employees.
  • the passage of California law SB 201, which was the culmination of a decades-long fight to extend collective bargaining rights to Student Researchers at UC.

A portion of dues money also goes to support political action, including legislative and other policy advocacy on issues that matter to UAW members. For example, UAW advocates strongly for fair, comprehensive immigration reform, which would include more visa access and an improved green card process, and expanded federal support for research funding, among other topics. [NOTE: Legally, dues money cannot be used for federal campaign contributions, such as the presidential race—that money comes from members’ voluntary contributions separate from, and in addition to, dues, in a program called VCAP (Voluntary Community Action Program)].

The remaining dues are allocated to the Strike and Defense Fund (44%) and Community Action Program (3%). Depending on the overall financial health of the Strike and Defense Fund (if the balance is $500M or greater), an additional allocation of dues called a “rebate” is given back to the Local and International Union.

Additional questions? Please do not hesitate to contact us.