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A Union for UMass Dartmouth Grad Student Employees

We are the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth graduate student employees: teaching and research assistants, doctoral and art fellows, clinical and studio assistants, and more whose work helps UMass Dartmouth function every day. All across campus the 400 or so of us teach classes, perform research, grade assignments, and countless other essential services to keep the university running.

But far too often, our work on campus is undervalued or overlooked. For example, UMass Dartmouth Graduate Assistants are paid less than 10% of a livable wage, leading to extremely difficult living conditions and severely compromised job performance. Therefore, we are forming a union with the UMassD Maintainers (AFT Local 6350) to get a formal voice on the job – and better wages, benefits, and working conditions. For more information about the unionization effort, visit

What are the benefits of a union?

At its core, a union is all of us. It’s a group of employees joining together in the knowledge that we have more power to improve things together than when we attempt it alone.

When workers are united and engaged as union members, we can secure contracts that provide livable wages and stipends, strong benefits like affordable health insurance and paid parental leave, and better working conditions including protection from exploitation. As a union, we can negotiate a contract that covers all UMass Dartmouth graduate student employees, and our union can legally enforce the contract if any disputes arise – meaning that everyone in the union is protected from unfair treatment. And a union’s established grievance procedure provides a clear and formal path of legal recourse against exploitation, harassment, discrimination, and abuse.

What does a union contract include?

Whatever we want it to include! Our union contract will be negotiated by a bargaining committee of UMassD graduate student employees, so it can include our priorities. At other colleges and universities, unionized grad employees have successfully negotiated:

  • higher wages and stipends
  • reduced or waived mandatory fees
  • parking and transportation allowances
  • affordable health, dental, and vision insurance
  • paid parental leave and childcare stipends
  • and more!

Why are we voting Yes?

AJ Vincelli, co-organizer and graduate student: “After 5 years of unsuccessful diplomatic attempts with the university to resolve the untenable nightmares that our graduate student employees suffer from, I know that unionization is our one remaining hope. I believe that by organizing we can improve grad workers’ lives, recruit and retain strong talent, infuse more grant money into the university system, publish high-quality research, and elevate the prestige of UMass Dartmouth and our surrounding community. Nobody wants the ship to continue sinking. I’m voting Yes because with a union, I have hope that we will finally achieve a win-win.”

Which union will we be joining?

We are seeking to become the second unit of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 6350, currently the UMassD Maintainers representing maintenance and trades staff at UMass Dartmouth. The chapter is affiliated with AFT Massachusetts, a statewide union that represents more than 23,000 higher education faculty and staff, public school employees, and public librarians. The UMass Dartmouth Faculty Federation, AFT Local 1895, represents faculty and professional staff on campus and is similarly affiliated with AFT Massachusetts. Nationally, the 1.7 million-member AFT is the largest U.S. higher education union and represents more than 34,000 graduate student employees around the country.

The UMassD Maintainers have won stronger wages, benefits, and working conditions for their members, including campus-wide health and safety protections during the COVID-19 pandemic that benefited our entire community. They’ve also engaged in advocacy at the state level to increase public funding for UMass Dartmouth to support campus operations, improve the state of campus buildings, and make the cost of college more affordable for students.

“We work alongside graduate student employees at UMass Dartmouth every day, and we see how hard you work to teach students and perform research. It’s time for that work to be recognized and rewarded with livable wages, strong benefits, and fair working conditions. Through our advocacy work with the statewide UMass Unions United coalition, we work with graduate students at other UMass campuses, and we’ve seen the incredible benefits they’ve been able to win by forming a union.” – Nick Gula, President of the UMassD Maintainers

“As an educator, I know that we don’t choose our jobs to get rich. But while we do this important work that we love, we deserve a livable wage and benefits that can support a family. And we deserve protection from harassment, discrimination, and unfair treatment at work. A union is how we win those things – by uniting together as workers.” – Beth Kontos, President of AFT Massachusetts

How is a union formed?

To establish our union, a majority of UMass Dartmouth graduate student employees must vote Yes in an election administered by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations. We expect the election to be scheduled for late April, and take place on and/or near campus.

The following currently-employed graduate student employees are eligible to cast a ballot:

  • Teaching Assistants
  • Teaching Fellows
  • Instructional Assistants
  • Studio Assistants
  • Clinical Assistants
  • Research Assistants
  • Distinguished Doctoral Fellows
  • Distinguished Art Fellows
  • Doctoral Fellows
  • Graduate Researchers
  • Graduate Assistants
  • Hourly-paid graduate students appointed for a minimum of 1 semester

What happens after a successful vote?

After we vote to form a union, a bargaining committee of graduate student employees will be established and then proceed to negotiate with UMassD administrators and write a union contract: a legally binding agreement also known as a “collective bargaining agreement” that covers wages, stipends, employee benefits, and working conditions. Academic matters and policies are not subject to collective bargaining. Once we reach an agreement with the university, a democratic vote of graduate student employees is required to ratify the proposed contract. Once ratified, the contract takes effect and covers all UMassD graduate student employees.

What about union dues?

No graduate employee will pay union dues until after the contract is ratified. And almost all initial union contracts include an immediate increase in net compensation that is substantially greater than union dues.

After successfully negotiating a contract and ratifying it by a democratic vote, UMassD graduate employees who choose to actively join the union will pay an estimated 1.5% of our compensation in dues. It is highly unlikely that we would vote to ratify a contract unless it included a pay increase that was higher than the cost of union dues. Combined with the many other benefits we can win in a contract, this means that union members will enjoy benefits that far outweigh the price of their dues!

For more information about the unionization effort, visit

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