FAQ for International Graduate Assistants
Why should I join GA United?
Basically the union is only as strong as its members. Bigger unions make better contracts. In the past working conditions varied greatly per department or you had to rely on the goodwill of your professor. With a big union GA United can negotiate the best possible working conditions for every GA on campus. That means issues like a salary increase, fee waivers, improved healthcare etc. Also issues that specifically affect Internationals – guaranteeing time off for immigration issues, waiver of the SEVIS fee etc can be put on paper in a legally binding contract.
Why does it have to cost so much?
At present membership of GA United is set at $20 per month (Dues are only paid in months where you receive a paycheck). GA United knows that many International GA’s struggle as it is to make ends meet each month. There are many families living from only one income, and Internationals do not have the same access to financial aid that Americans do. Often difficult decisions have to be made concerning how to best spend the $1200 or so earned every month- especially with the skyrocketing increases in rent and fees! However the decision to spend a precious $18.10 per month on your GA United membership is a decision well made. As mentioned above the dues are a means to improving your working conditions, negotiating a pay increase and/or a cut in the ever increasing student fees. Over the years universities with strong Graduate assistant’s unions have seen stipend increases of 5-10%. This along with improvements in health benefits for spouses and children, fee waivers, help with childcare costs etc. The dues are so calculated to help pay for expert assistance the state union gives us during contract negotiations, cover costs associated with printing fliers, newsletters , organize social events and expenses to maintain the much valued GAUnited office.
Can I join GAU if I am here on a student visa?
Can I join a union without any fear of repercussions?
YES. In fact, the right to form a union is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Graduate employees have formed unions and bargained contracts at more than 20 universities and over 60 campuses. It is against the law for the university (or any other employer you might have in the U.S.) to discriminate or retaliate against you because you are a member of the union or active in the union. In fact membership to GAU is secret. Although the payroll office will know there is no way that your professors or department chairs will ever find out you are a member unless you tell them yourself. If you want to be more actively involved with GAU also be assured that in the over 30 years of graduate assistants unions no International students have ever faced trouble because of their activities with a union. Often international graduate students have been in the leadership of these unions. Indeed the former president of Graduate Assistant United, Marinus van Kuilenburg is here studying on an F1 visa!
Even though I can legally join a union, are there any restrictions on my ability to participate in union activities such as picketing, rallies, leafleting, etc.?
Within the union you have the same rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association as U.S. nationals. Political activities such as picketing, rallies, leafleting, demonstrations, sit-ins, etc. are forms of expression and free association, which are protected for international students in the U.S. who have student visas.
Will my union membership or union activity affect visa applications I might make in the future?
NO. It is against the law for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to ask you questions about your union membership, your legal union activities, or to take them into account in considering your visa application. IT IS NOT AGAINST THE LAW TO ASK A QUESTION ABOUT ALL ORGANIZATIONS TO WHICH YOU BELONG. THIS IS ASKED ON OUR CITIZENSHIP APPLICATION AND UNION MEMBERSHIP IS INCLUDED; IT CANNOT BE USED AGAINST YOU OR TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT BUT IT IS ASKED.
I want to get involved , how can I find out even more?
Please contact Jim Podesva at firstname.lastname@example.org