What is a labor union?

A labor union is a legally certified organization that has the exclusive right to collectively bargain contracts for and file grievances on behalf of a group of employees at a workplace. They are sometimes called “Collective Bargaining Agents,” and the contracts are sometimes called “Collective Bargaining Agreements.”

What is the purpose of having a labor union?

Labor unions give workers a voice. USF, for instance, employs about 2,500 Graduate Assistants. It is not feasible for USF to pay close attention to all of their individual concerns. Without GAU, many of these concerns would probably go ignored. But thanks to GAU’s legal status as a labor union, when GAU voices concerns on behalf of Graduate Assistants, USF must listen to us. Labor unions also put workers on equal footing with management. When GAU negotiates with USF administration on issues important to GAs, we’re on equal footing.

Does every workplace have a labor union?

No. A labor union must go through a certification process in order to be legally recognized. Private sector labor unions are under the purview of the National Labor Relations Board, while state public sector employee unions are recognized by state government labor boards. In Florida, this board is called the Public Employee Relations Commission.

What is the process for becoming a union?

Certification processes vary between private and public sector, and between states within the public sector. The basic ingredients are getting a certain percent of employees to sign cards stating that they want union representation, and then holding an election where all employees can vote on whether they want union representation, and if multiple unions are competing to be that representative, which union will do the representing. If the election favors the union, the results go to the board (PERC in Florida), who then certifies the results and recognizes the union.

Will Graduate Assistants United ever go on strike?

No.  It is illegal for public sector employees to go on strike in the state of Florida.

Is Graduate Assistants United a Student Organization?

No.  We have no formal connection with the University of South Florida, Student Government, Graduate Professional Student Council, or any other campus student organization. We receive no money from tuition or fees that students pay to USF. Our sole source of income is the dues money that our members pay.

I’ve heard that Florida is a “right to work” state. What does that mean?

In some states, all employees at a workplace are automatically made members of (and pay dues to) whatever union represents the employees there. But in Florida and some other states, employees have the “right to work” without having to join and pay dues to the union. This results in weaker unions, since people who are not members are allowed to “free ride” on the benefits that the dues-paying members contribute to achieving. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons scenario. Weaker unions typically mean weaker rights and fewer benefits for employees, hence the popular joke amongst union folks that “right to work” really means “right to work for less.”

How do I join GAU?

Joining is easy! Simply fill out a membership form and get it to us in one of the following ways ways:

  • Drop it in your department’s campus mail slot (ask a secretary in your department how to do this)
  • Send it to our office at 30384 USF Holly Drive Tampa, FL 33620
  • Give it to your departmental steward, or bring to one of our social events (check the calendar!).

How to become a nonmember:

You are automatically unenrolled from GAU if you graduate, or if you cease being a Graduate Assistant for any other reason (such as going on a fellowship, etc.). There is no need to unenroll if this situation applies to you.If you wish to cancel your GAU membership, write a letter which states that you no longer want to be a member of GAU and no longer want dues deducted from your paycheck.  Include your name, U-ID, address, email address, written signature, and reason for becoming a non-member.  Make two copies of this letter and send one to Human Resources (Division of Human Resources, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, SVC 2172, Tampa, Florida 33620) and send the other to GAU’s office at 30384 USF Holly Drive Tampa, FL 33620. Both letters can be sent free of charge through campus mail.