Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the Academic Student Employees (ASEs) Union, UAW Local 4121?
  2. What does our Union do?  How many ASEs at UW are members?
  3. Why do ASEs have a union?
  4. What is collective bargaining and how is it different from what we had before?
  5. Why did we join the UAW in particular?
  6. How have our union’s efforts furthered broader campaigns to improve economic and social equity for the larger community?
  7. Have ASEs at other schools unionized?
  8. What are the benefits of becoming a member of UAW 4121?
  9. What is covered by our collective bargaining agreement?
  10. Can the Union help  if I feel I have been treated unfairly at work?
  11. Who is my Union representative and how do I get in touch with them?
  12. How can I get more involved?  Can international grad students participate in the Union?
  13. Why do we pay membership dues?  How much are dues?  What’s the difference between dues and fees?
  14. Do the benefits of being in the union really justify the cost?
  15. Isn’t it true that I get all the benefits of being a member even if I only pay fees? Why should I pay dues?
  16. Will I get in trouble with my supervisor, PI or the university by joining the Union?
  17. I think things are going pretty well, so why should I pay for something that I don’t really need?
  18. Why should I become a member if I mostly want to focus on my work and research and finishing my PhD?
    Additional FAQ for Incoming and Continuing International Academic Student Employees (ASEs) and Postdocs (last updated August 10, 2020):
  19. Do International ASEs and Postdocs need a SSN in order to be paid?
  20. Can International ASEs and Postdocs be paid without a US bank account?
  21. Does U.S. law prohibit international students (regardless of visa status) from working from abroad?
  22. Can the University allow for late “check-ins” given that ASEs are arriving at delayed timelines due to COVID related international travel restrictions?
  23. How do tuition waivers work for international ASEs?
  24. Is it possible to enroll in courses in Autumn 2020 quarter without an F1 visa?
  25. Do International ASEs have to pay for health insurance if they’re not in the US?

Answers to FAQs

  1. UAW Local 4121 is the Union at UW for Academic Student Employees (ASEs).  We are RAs, TAs, Tutors, Graders, some Trainees and Fellows – students the University hires to do instructional or research work. We are more than 4,500 strong at all 3 campuses of UW: Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell.
  2. More than 70% of ASEs have consistently chosen membership in our Union. Our strength helps us build our collective power and advocate for fair working conditions, a stronger and more accessible higher education system, and social justice in our community and beyond.  
  3. As student workers, we are critical to the university’s core mission as a center for instruction and research.  We work in labs, we teach classes, we grade papers – in short, UW works as a university because we work at the university.  And to ensure that we’re treated fairly as employees, and to mobilize for a more competitive and accessible university, we exercise our collective voice to impact rules and policies that affect us.  For years ASEs at UW organized for a union to ensure we had power and an equal say to make improvements.  Those of us that now benefit from our collective bargaining agreement are the beneficiaries of these early efforts: our wages are higher, our out of pocket fee expenses are lower, our campus climate is more inclusive, and we have recourse when we experience problems.  
  4. Collective bargaining allows ASEs to negotiate with UW administration as equals, and to provide that no decisions get made without a vote of the membership.  Before collective bargaining, the administration would choose whether to take input from us or not; thus collective bargaining equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. With collective bargaining, UW cannot make unilateral changes to our wages, benefits, and working conditions. ASEs are elected as bargaining representatives, survey the full membership to determine our priorities and then negotiate a contract with UW, which is subject to a ratification vote by UAW Local 4121 members.  Our collective bargaining agreement (CBA) empowers us by making our wages and working conditions transparent.  Its terms cannot be changed without a democratic vote by union members, and it is subject to regular re-negotiation so that members can remain in control of its terms and mobilize for improvements.
  5. UAW 4121 is part of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).  The UAW has historically been at the forefront of innovation and one of the largest, and most diverse and progressive unions in North America. In recent decades, more than 40,000 workers in higher education have joined the UAW, including academic student employees at the University of California (UAW Local 2865), University of Connecticut (GEU-UAW Local 6950), California State University (UAW Local 4123), and University of Massachusetts (UAW Local 2322).  As the benefits of collective bargaining have become more obvious, and legal standards are being updated – such as the new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling – student workers at other private universities are increasingly organizing: Columbia University (GWC-UAW Local 2110), Boston College (BCGEU-UAW), Harvard University (HGSU-UAW), and The New School (SENS-UAW) are unionizing through UAW.  Postdoctoral Researchers have also consistently chosen UAW: University of Massachusetts- Amherst, Boston, and Dartmouth campuses (UAW Local 2322) and University of California (UAW Local 5810).  Recently postdocs at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab became the first in a national lab to file for a union and chose to join the UAW.   
  6. The UAW has long been a leader in the struggle to secure economic and social justice for all people, and Local 4121 has proudly carried that tradition.  Our Local helped to create the M.L. King County Labor Council Climate Caucus and participates actively in Blue-Green Alliance; helped to protect the optional practical training (OPT) which provides greater flexibility and length of work opportunities for international workers at U.S. universities; campaigned for the conversion of campus bathrooms to all-gender bathrooms in compliance with our collective bargaining agreement and Seattle city ordinance.
  7. Yes, more than 40,000 workers in higher education (academic student employees, graduate employees, and postdocs) at public (and private) universities across the country.  Also, see the answer to Question 5.
  8. Becoming a member ensures we have more power to make improvements at UW and allows you to participate in union decisions. Having consistent majority support from ASEs was critical to winning improved wages, rights, and benefits in our historic first contract with UW. Continued strong majority membership allows us to better enforce our contract – including recovering more than $6 million dollars through our contractual grievance procedure for ASEs – and to win more improvements in upcoming negotiations. In addition, becoming a member gives you the right to participate fully in the Union – vote in elections, attend meetings, participate in workgroups, run for office, get updates, and more.
  9. UAW 4121 has made great progress in improving, securing, and fighting for ASEs’ rights on all 3 UW campuses.  Our contract is fully arbitrable, with the right to appeal disputes to a neutral, third party.  It includes job security protections, workload protections, childcare assistance, just cause protections, workload protections, and guaranteed leave and time off.  In the most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA), we continued our recent success at negotiating significant wage increases: nearly 10% per year between 2012 and 2018.  We also won strong protections against discrimination and harassment, including ground-breaking protections against  microaggressions and access to safe and comfortable all-gender restroom facilities. Our health care coverage has improved tremendously; we now have $0 premium health insurance for 50% appointees, with dependent coverage paid ⅔ by UW, and the healthcare plan also provides dental and vision coverage and is transgender inclusive.  
  10. Yes, we can help! The first step is to contact your union representative.  By clicking here you can find the appropriate person to talk to for your academic department.  You can also fill out this webform and we will get in touch with you right away.  All union officers have worked as ASEs and have been elected by members to serve as representatives.  The Union has a strong track record of assisting ASEs and resolving problems successfully, usually quickly and informally. Please be sure to contact us right away – even before initiating an informal discussion with your supervisor or department –  so that you get the best possible advice and preserve your rights under the Grievance Procedure.  Keep in mind that Step 1 grievances “must be filed within twenty one (21) calendar days from the occurrence of the events giving rise to the grievance, or from the time at which the aggrieved individual should reasonably have become aware of the grievance.”  Informal discussions do not extend the 21-day timeline.  Click here to read examples of how ASEs on campus have successfully enforced their rights under the contract.
  11. All elected union officials and their contact information is listed on the Leadership page.  Academic departments at UW are divided into 5 regions, which each region having 2 Bargaining Committee members and 16 stewards serving as representatives.  There are also 9 members of the Executive Board, who represent your Union as a whole.  Please contact any of these elected officials with questions, concerns, or to find out how to get involved!  You may also call the Union’s office at (206) 633-6080 or uaw4121@uaw4121.org if you need to speak with someone right away.
  12. There are many opportunities to get involved in your Union!  The first way is to sign up for membership! If you are a graduate or undergraduate with the following job titles, you are covered by our collective bargaining agreement– Research Assistant, Teaching Assistant, Staff Assistant, Reader/Grader, Tutor, and Trainees and Fellows whose work is similar to Research Assistants.  There are no barriers for international students to get involved.  You’re encouraged to attend our monthly membership meetings where members discuss and report on work being done by various work groups, which are created and driven by members throughout campus.  You can also run for office – see how to become eligible, or let us know if you have a particular interest or skill that you can contribute!
  13. Membership dues are a key source of our power, because they provide resources that we use to bargain and enforce the contract and ensure that all ASEs have access to strong representation.  The University is a multi-billion dollar institution, with strong representation and legal support: to bargain as equals we need resources that are not ultimately controlled by UW.  Member dues are 1.44% of gross pay and there is a  one-time initiation fee of $10.  Having a strong membership majority means a great deal in enforcing our current contract and winning improvements in the future.
  14. About 30 percent of dues go to the International Strike Fund, which is available to all UAW members in the event they vote to go on strike and lose pay.  10 percent of strike fund payments are returned to the Local union, provided the international fund maintains a balance of over $500 million.  Another 30 percent supports various international departments and staff that help advise us and provide support for bargaining, grievance handling, and the like.  The remainder is Local funds that we use for our office, Local staff, materials and to pay for actions and events that build power for our membership.  You can review our IRS 990 reports for a more specific breakdown of these expenditures.  
  15. It is true that non-members get the same benefits, rights and protections as dues paying members.  But our ability to win these improvements has been the direct result of strong membership: when the University knows that a strong majority of ASEs have the right to vote, they are far more likely to remain accountable.  As a strong union with financial resources, we’ve been able to make substantial gains that far outweigh the costs, in wage increases alone not to mention the non-economic improvements we’ve won.  Check out this chart for more about what’s changed as a result of collective bargaining at UW.
  16. No one has reported having any adverse reaction from their supervisor by accepting membership in the union.  Moreover, our contact protects us against any form of discrimination due to membership in the union.  
  17. Many of the benefits you enjoy today have come from activism of previous generations of student workers just like you.  Your decision to become involved in the union ensures we can continue to build a stronger university: not just for us as individuals but for our entire community.  
  18. Being active in the union is not incompatible with focusing on research and teaching – in fact this is how our leadership and active membership functions!  You can always increase or decrease your participation based on your academic needs.  
  19. No law prohibits you from being paid without an SSN (Social Security Number). You are encouraged to obtain an SSN as soon as possible. Most international students and scholars in nonimmigrant status are eligible to be employed in the United States, and are therefore eligible to apply for an SSN if they are actually employed in the United States.  
  20. Yes.  
  21. There are no U.S. immigration laws that would prohibit the university from employing anyone who is not physically in the U.S.  The U.S. laws about employment authorization apply only when someone is inside the U.S.  However, there may be laws in the employees’ respective home countries that prohibit or restrict such employment.  Please check with a licensed attorney for advice about each country on a case-by-case basis.  
  22. ICE guidance states that “You have 30 days to enter the country before your official program start date, as listed on your Form I-20. If you do not report to your school by your program start date, your DSO may terminate your SEVIS record. We suggest that you contact your school immediately once you enter the country so that there is no question of your arrival. If you cannot enter the United States for the term listed on your Form I-20, contact your school officials as soon as possible so that they can update your record so your plans are accurately reflected in SEVIS (emphasis added).”  We advise that you stay in regular contact with your home department about your travel plans.  Contact us at intl-workgroup@uaw4121.org if you’re receiving unclear or incorrect information so that we can help you advocate.  
  23. The terms of our collective bargaining agreement apply equally to citizen and non-citizen ASEs, including eligibility for a tuition waiver (see this article for details).  Contact us at intl-workgroup@uaw4121.org if you’re receiving unclear or incorrect information so that we can help you advocate.  
  24. If you have previously been physically present and studying in the U.S. prior to March 9, 2020, then your DSO can continue their SEVIS record and you can enroll in online classes in the same way as someone in the U.S.
    If you are a new student who has never been issued an F-1 visa and has never entered the U.S., a DSO cannot issue an I-20 unless you can take a full course of study consisting of in-person classes.  The University could allow you to enroll in online classes from your home country but this would be done outside of the I-20/SEVIS system.  
  25. No. Under our collective bargaining agreement health insurance is guaranteed for any graduate employee – including international graduate students – who hold appointments with 50% or greater FTE (Full-Time Equivalent).  The Graduate Appointee Insurance Program (GAIP) is a $0 premium health insurance our union has bargained for eligible ASEs, meaning you do not have to pay monthly for this health insurance program. International students who are not eligible for employer-paid insurance like GAIP may also apply to waive the requirement to pay a fee for the UW International Student Health Insurance Plan (ISHIP).  This is done by submitting a waiver request through the How to Apply to Waive ISHIP section of the ISHIP Waiver page. Waiver requests are due by the third Friday of each quarter, but students may submit a waiver request at any time after registering for quarterly classes.