FAQ on the Collective Bargaining Agreement
between American University and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, representing AU’s graduate student employees
Q. I understand that a union represents graduate student employees at American University. Is that correct?
A. Yes, most graduate student employees at AU who are working for faculty members as teaching or research assistants are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500.
Q. Is there a union contract in place and, if so, where can I find it?
A. Yes, the Union and AU entered into a Collective Bargaining Agreement that took effect on January 24, 2020 and runs through August 31, 2021. The Agreement is available here. You can also find the document on our homepage under Quick Links section.
Q. Do I have to join the Union if I am a graduate student employee at AU?
A. No one is required to join the Union. However, if you choose not to join, you may be required to pay an agency fee (a service charge toward the union’s cost of representing you under the contract). Whether you have to pay a fee depends on whether you are covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), when you enrolled in your graduate program at AU, how many hours and weeks you work during the semester, and whether or not you have other work commitments outside AU that would constitute a conflict of interest.
Some graduate student employees are not covered by the CBA and therefore do not have to join the Union or pay an agency fee. Article 1 of the CBA specifies who is covered by the Agreement and who is not. See FAQ, "Am I covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement?"
Graduate student employees covered by the CBA who enrolled in their graduate program prior to December 20, 2018 are not required to join the Union or pay an agency fee, but may voluntarily decide to do so.
Graduate student employees covered by the CBA who enrolled in their graduate program on or after December 20, 2018, must either join the Union or pay an agency fee unless they are exempt. Graduate student employees are exempt if they (a) receive wages for less than the entire semester or are regularly scheduled to work fewer than ten hours a week; or (b) can demonstrate that due to the nature of their employment outside of American University, paying dues or a fee would inhibit the ability of the graduate student employee to perform services for his or her non-University employer.
Q. Am I covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement?
A. Article 1 defines who is a member of the bargaining unit, and therefore covered by the Agreement. You are a member of the bargaining unit if you are an AU graduate student in a degree program employed by the university and working for a faculty member on matters related to research or teaching, whether your employment is part of a financial aid package or not, unless your position is funded by an external grant or contract. Graduate student employees whose positions are funded externally are excluded from the bargaining unit and are not covered by the Agreement.
Q. If I decide not to join the Union, am I still covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement?
A. You are covered by the Agreement if you are a member of the bargaining unit as defined in Article 1, whether or not you join the Union. See FAQ "Am I covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement?"
Q. What if I have questions about the amount I would have to pay in dues or fees?
A. The union sets its dues and agency fees, so you can and should ask the union, SEIU Local 500.
Q. What if I don’t pay?
A. If you refuse to pay dues or fees, and you do not fall within the exceptions set forth in the Agreement, AU may charge you a fee of $300.
Q. Where can I find further explanation of my rights and responsibilities under the Collective Bargaining Agreement?
A. The Agreement itself is the best source for understanding your rights and responsibilities. The Agreement is available here, under “Quick Links.”
Q. Will the Collective Bargaining Agreement change how my work as a graduate assistant is evaluated?
A. Article 7 specifies a process for evaluating work by graduate student employees. Although each teaching unit at AU may have slightly different guidelines for evaluating graduate student employees, they will all meet the requirements of the Agreement. In most cases, you will not see a substantial change from prior evaluations.
Q. Does the Collective Bargaining Agreement address pay rates for graduate student employees?
A. Yes. Article 8 addresses compensation and benefits. Appendices at the end of the CBA provide the minimum base rates for Ph.D., and Masters, and other graduate student employees enrolled in AU degree programs.
Q. What should I do if I think the university is not living up to its obligations under the Collective Bargaining Agreement?
A. Article 4 specifies a process for graduate student employees to pursue if they believe university is not living up to its obligations under the Agreement. Both the University and the Union encourage graduate student employees to seek an informal resolution of a problem before initiating the formal process. The union can assist resolving in informal as well as formal grievances.
Q. Who should I contact if I have questions?
A. If you have questions about an AU issue, start with your faculty supervisor, department chair or program director. If they cannot answer your question, each school or college will have an administrator in the office of the dean assigned to answer questions about graduate student employees and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If you have questions about the Agreement, it is also appropriate to contact the Union.
Q: How do I go about joining SEIU Local 500 or finding out more about union membership?
A: Graduate student employees interested in information about joining the union should contact SEIU Local 500. The graduate student employee web site also has a “Quick Link” to the form the union uses for membership applications.