What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the basic process of negotiation between workers who have organized a union and their employer on issues such as wages, work rules and policies, child care, staffing ratios, health and safety on the job, benefits, insurance premiums, work schedules, vacation, etc. Collective bargaining gives organized workers a tool through which to change unfair working conditions and have a real voice on the job, creating a legally enforceable collective bargaining agreement between workers and their employer.

Although public workers in North Carolina and Virginia have the right to form and join a union and can negotiate with their employer for fair wages and benefits—as well as fair working conditions—it is illegal for employers and their employees to sign a legally-enforceable collective bargaining agreement.

North Carolina General Statute § 95-98 prohibits state and local governments from entering into collective bargaining agreements with their employers. NCGS § 95-98 was signed into law in 1959 by an all-white legislature during the time of Jim Crow segregation and is a major human rights violation in the United States. The NAACP has deemed NCGS § 95-98 to be North Carolina’s last Jim Crow law.

Why should I join the union, since public workers don’t have collective bargaining rights in North Carolina?

Winning collective bargaining rights for public workers is one of our goals, but even without those rights, UE 150 has made a real difference for its members.

Focusing on what a union can do:

  • We can decide collectively and democratically what issues are most important to us
  • We can meet with and pressure the administration to make changes
  • We can build solidarity and share information about working conditions across departments
  • We can take our case to the court of public opinion with rallies and demonstrations
  • We can support each other as we advocate within our own departments
  • We can use every resource available to us to create positive change

Where do the union dues go? I’m a worker on a tight budget!

We’re in the same boat! Low wages and stipends mean lots of workers are strapped for cash. If we want to improve this, but we need to build a strong union to fight for better compensation and more funding security. Your dues are an investment towards a better future for graduate workers on campus!

Our dues are the lowest dues from ANY union!In no other union are dues so low and used so well. In UE there are no big shots living high on our funds. UE created a rule that the union leadership cannot be paid more than the workers they represent. We turn a portion of our dues over to UE and have total freedom to use the rest as we see fit to support our union.

I don’t like the union’s politics and policies. Why would I join? Would I be welcome?

In a members-run union like ours, the members decide our policies and politics. If there’s something you don’t like, or would have to have a voice about, become a member so your voice and your vote are heard. And of course, you will be more than welcome. We have a mentorship program to specifically help everyone feel welcome and knowledgeable. We are your union!

No one else in my department or unit is a member of the union. Why should I join? What’s the point?

Many of the issues we’re organizing around—like increasing parking fees, dental insurance coverage, minimum commitments from departments on funding, and easy-to-use, accountable grievance procedures—span departments and units. We are also striving to have representation from all departments and areas on campus. If you join, you can help in organizing within your department and voice what issues you see in your workplace to create change.

If I join the union, what will my role be? How can I get more involved? 

We hope you will consider signing a membership form and joining the union! Because the members run this union, each member can decide what they want their role in the union to be.

We strongly encourage new members to become leaders in the union and believe our union can best represent workers if our union is built by people with different perspectives and experiences both within and outside the workplace. We recognize that the current leadership of our union here at UNC-Chapel Hill doesn’t fully reflect the diversity of workers on our campus—including age, race, job type, national origin, and socioeconomic status. And if this union is to represent the needs of all workers at UNC, we know that this is something that needs to change.

So, if you are a campus worker or graduate worker, we encourage you to help build a union that fights for the needs of workers in your department/unit and in your community. Our current members are enthusiastic to follow your leadership and to support you in any way we can as we work toward greater respect and self-determination for workers across campus.

Some of the ways you can get involved include:

  • Become a member of or a chair one of our current committees
  • Create a new campaign, project, or committee that is focused on a problem in your job or workplace
  • Or serve on our executive board, which allows you to work more closely with leaders in the statewide union
  • Attend meetings and events hosted by the union

We also know everyone has different time commitments in their jobs and in their home lives, and not everyone has a lot of time to dedicate to the union. There’s no pressure to take on a role you aren’t comfortable with, or to dedicate more time than you have to give. In fact, we already have a number of campus worker and graduate worker members who have joined the union, but their work and family commitments make it difficult for them to be active in organizing right now.

[Campus Workers] What has a UE Workers Union done for UNC Campus Workers in the past?

UE 150 (the UE local for the whole state) was founded by housekeepers doing grassroots organizing at UNC in 1990. These workers were largely Black and female, and they were fed up with unfair pay, racial discrimination, no opportunities for promotion or advancement, and unfair grievance procedures. Students joined supported their action by fundraising, and the University threatened to bring students up on Honor Court violations because it was “illegal” to give money to employees. Housekeepers filed grievances and sued UNC, winning $1 million in raises and back pay, career training, and improved childcare.  This shows us that union organizing works! But it takes a fight. The University actively pushed back against these organizers by creating the Employee Forum, separating workers, and actively seeking to hire workers in positions (refugees, non-English-native speakers) that they believed they could more easily exploit.

[Campus Workers] How is the Workers Union different from the Employee Forum?

The Employee Forum says that it “provides an effective two-way communication link between the Administration and the Employees.” This emphasizes communications from the administration to employees, and not the kind of independent, democratic organizing that our Union participates in. The Forum can only make non-binding suggestions, and represents not just workers’ interests, but also management and administration’s interests. It can be a useful link between administration and workers (we have members involved in the Employee Forum), and we look forward to working with them, but it is not a worker-based group advocating solely for workers’ rights, like our Union is.

[Grad Workers] I am a good worker and have a great relationship with my advisor and department. Why do I need the union?

A union can make those relationships even stronger. A study at Cornell found that having a graduate workers’ union on campus led to higher reported levels of personal and professional support from faculty, not the doom-and-gloom narrative of adversarial faculty-graduate relationships caused by unionization that some university administrations are trying to create.

Even if you have a great work environment, think what you would do if you were routinely exploited for work by your advisor, ignored by your department leadership, and unfairly compensated for your labor. Joining the union helps ensure that everyone can enjoy a productive and fair relationship with their departments and advisors. Because of the tenuous nature of graduate work, which is often in flux as professors move institutions and funding levels change, it’s important for good workers to be a part of a strong union.

[Grad Workers] I’m only a graduate worker for five or six years. Why bother joining a union?

Five or six years is still a long time to be treated unfairly. Joining a union helps ensure that all graduate workers can enjoy fair working conditions and a more democratic institution where we negotiate on our own behalf. Moreover, even being part of the union for a year or less has a huge impact. The presence of a union is strongly correlated with increased wages and more equitable working conditions. Now is the time, as the cost of living is steadily rising in Chapel Hill, while stipends and wages are staying the same.

Joining the union isn’t just about improving your working conditions. Our union represents all campus workers,including more marginalized, low-wage, blue-collar workers like UNC housekeepers, groundskeepers, and bricklayers. By joining, you are standing with other workers on campus and pressuring the administration to treat all UNC workers fairly.

[Grad Workers] How is the Workers Union different from the UNC Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF)?

We can help the GPSF help us, creating a potent combination. While the GPSF serves as more of a professional development organization for graduate students and workers, our member-run union is totally independent from the university administration. We don’t know yet what the proposed GPSF split will mean for graduate workers, but we know what union organizing can do. Our union organizes for independent political action, putting pressure on all levels of the state government, including the governor, state legislature, UNC Board of Governors, and the Chancellor. We can build popular pressure and force changes that internal meetings and conversations would never make.
Let’s not fall back on wait-and-see approaches. Advocate for yourself now!

[Grad Workers] What has a UE Workers Union done for grad workers at UNC in the past?

UE has a history of organizing at UNC. In 2001, UE150a, the former UNC TA union, successfully pushed the State Employee’s Credit Union to include TAs and RAs. In 2002, it forced the administration to raise the minimum stipend for TAs and to revise the university’s child-care policy.

UE is part of the community, as public-sector workers build together to advance social justice and support Muslim, Black, and immigrant workers across the state and nation. Imagine what we can do with them.

UE 150: The Workers’ Union at UNC is committed to fostering a workplace free of racism, sexism, classism, and ableism. We work for the dignity and wellness of all workers and want to create a workplace that is safe, healthy, and comfortable for all workers. We want workers to have power in their workplace.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us!