Membership FAQ

What does it mean to be a member of my union?

Signing up to be a dues-paying member of your union means choosing to join a majority of your coworkers in signing up for membership. Strong membership is essential to building a strong union; high membership signals to USC administration that Graduate Student Workers are united and ready to exercise our rights, and it ensures that Graduate Student Workers, through our union, can effectively pool our resources together and improve our working conditions.

Members, and only members, have a voice in shaping the union’s priorities, electing and running for union leadership, and participating in union committees.

Take some time to read about the major gains made in Graduate Student Workers’ first union contract: the result of years of organizing and the collective action of thousands of workers.

Who can sign up to be a member of the union?

Generally, any Graduate Student Worker (GSW) at USC holding an appointment as a Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, Assistant Lecturer, or internally funded STEM fellow will be eligible for membership in the union.

PhD students on fellowship in the social sciences or humanities, and PhD students on external STEM fellowships, are also eligible to become dues-paying members in the union. Because USC does not currently consider you to be covered by the contract, out-of-unit fellows are signing up to pay “solidarity dues,” currently set at $15 per month.

What are dues? Why are dues 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 our union 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 pays wealthy anti-union law firms to handle its employment disputes. 

To learn more about the many pro-worker causes that our union dues support, check out the “Dues in Action” section at the bottom of this page! 

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). There is also a one-time initiation fee of $10.

How do dues work?

In our first contract, Graduate Student Workers won the right to pay our member dues through a simple and straightforward process. All GSWs have to do to pay union dues is opt into dues deduction on the second page of the membership form. This authorizes USC to deduct union dues from your paycheck, by far the easiest way to pay dues. 

Are dues optional?

Paying union dues and signing up for union membership are optional. However, all Graduate Student Workers in the bargaining unit will pay 1.18% of their gross monthly income in the form of agency fees. Because everyone in the bargaining unit must receive all of the benefits of the contract, non-members will be required to pay a comparable “fair share” fee. This is because union contracts must benefit everyone and everyone is entitled equal protections.

All bargaining unit members must authorize agency fee payroll deduction or sign up for membership by April 10th.

A majority of GSWs are signing up to be members and pay union dues rather than the agency fee, because strong membership is how we enforce the protections and benefits that we won in the contract.

When will dues go into effect?

GSWs will start paying dues and fees in April. The deadline to authorize agency fee payroll deduction is April 10th.

Where will my dues money go?

See the “Dues in Action” section below!

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Dues in Action

Dues in UAW are 1.44% of gross income and no Grad Student Worker (GSW) will pay dues until after a contract has been democratically ratified. There is also a union initiation fee, which is $10 one-time. Union members, including USC GSWs, democratically decide how union dues are spent. 

Local union expenses throughout the year are approved by a democratically-elected Executive Board of GSWs. Typically local unions also draft and approve a budget at the start of each year. Elected trustees also audit the union’s income and expenditures twice annually.

Most of the work of enforcing the contract and representing membership is financially supported by the Local Union. The Local Union receives 27% of its dues to support the following:

  • 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 supports research and researchers

The local union may also receive an additional “rebate” if the Strike and Defense fund is over $500M. To get a sense of how local union dues are used in practice, we recommend reading  “Dues in Action” from the Union of Academic Student Employees and Postdocs at UW

Another 26% of dues goes to the International Union’s General Fund, which provides technical support for contract negotiations and helps other workers successfully form unions (including GSWOC – UAW). 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. 

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)].