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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

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What are dues? Why are they important?

Dues are union members’ financial contribution to the operation of our union and to our 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: we 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 us 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.

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 do dues go into effect?

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

Does everyone have to pay union dues?

No one can be required to become a member of GSWOC-UAW and pay union dues. Note however that in many contracts, because everyone in the bargaining unit must receive all of the benefits of the contract, non-members are generally required to pay a comparable “fair share” fee. This is because union contracts must benefit everyone and everyone is entitled equal protections. The inclusion of such a provision at USC would be something we democratically decide as part of our bargaining agenda, would be subject to negotiation with USC administration, and contingent on ratification as part of our contract.

To provide some concrete examples:

  • New York University teaching assistants voted to have what is commonly called a “union shop”. This means that, with some rare exceptions, everyone is required to either pay dues or an equivalent fee when they are working as a teaching assistant.
  • Columbia University graduated student workers voted to have what is commonly called an “open shop”. This means that only graduate student workers that sign up as union members pay dues.

What we decide we want at USC will be determined democratically, subject to negotiations with USC administration, and must be democratically ratified as part of our union contract.

Could dues outweigh the benefits of a union contract?

The value of increased wages and benefits in the first contract typically outweighs the cost of dues, often leading to overwhelming majority approval of those agreements. For example, Grad Student Workers at Columbia won a minimum of a 6% increase for an after-dues minimum 12-month salary of $43,100 for the 2021/2022 academic year, plus guaranteed salary increases in subsequent years. In their first-ever contract, which they ratified in December 2022, Student Researchers in the UC system won massive wage increases ranging from 25-80%.

We will vote democratically to ratify our contract, and we know of no cases where a graduate student worker union voted to ratify a contract that resulted in anything but a net wage increase.

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.