Dues without democracy: AFT Unions require extra dues for voting rights?

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Recently, At What Cost reported the NYSUT/AFT union dues table, but what we haven’t covered was the cost of local dues. Total collected dues would include local dues plus the dues that go to NYSUT/AFT directly. CGSU has not provided any information regarding the percentage deducted from every paycheck for local dues nor how local dues would be utilized.

After researching other AFT affiliated graduate student unions, we discovered that many AFT affiliates require students to pay extra dues to have a voice within the union. The right to vote on union issues is earned by paying more money to become a “full member.”

The University of Michigan’s graduate student union requires union members to pay an additional $65.13 per year; Rutgers an additional $26.64 yearly, to gain voting rights. Rutgers graduate student union says, “…joining [as a full member] allows you a voice in the union’s decisions…” If you are paying any money at all, shouldn’t you have a voice in the union? How is it democratic to collect extra money to enable the right to vote? In America, we don’t contribute extra tax money just to have the right to vote.

Not all AFT unions follow the same model. For example, UIUC states, “All teaching assistants and graduate assistants pay 2% of their wages as dues to the Union regardless of whether they are members of the Union.” What kind of union would CGSU form? So far, they have not answered this question.

While researching the topic of local dues, we noticed that non-local (in our case NYSUT/AFT) dues generally represented around half of the total dues collected. Supposing that our local dues would be half of our total dues, local dues would deduct an additional 1.2% to 1.6% of an average graduate student’s paycheck. To put it another way, you would owe roughly $800 per year in total union dues. CGSU has verbally stated that 1% local dues is a reasonable estimate, which lowers the total dues estimate to around $750. CGSU’s website states, “Union dues do not usually exceed 2% of total compensation.” Using a model where dues compose 2% of total compensation, the average graduate student would pay around $600 yearly in total union dues; around $200 going to our local, CGSU. So how much would we each need to contribute if we formed a union? $800? $750? $600? CGSU has not provided us with any information regarding local dues despite the importance of this issue.

In summary, our research revealed a couple key points:

  • CGSU could require you to pay more to have a voice and vote in the union.
  • Total dues might range anywhere from $600 to $800 yearly. That totals $3000 to $4000 for a 5 year career at Cornell.

Despite revealing some interesting facts and estimating the total cost of yearly dues, two important questions remain unanswered.

  • Who decides how local dues are spent?
  • What would this money be used for?

Ask CGSU these questions or others by clicking here. Forward the responses to atwhatcostcornell@gmail.com; we would be happy to share them so everyone can be an informed voter.

Here are additional resources regarding dues:
AFT constitution – Bylaws Article VIII: Per Capita, Budgets, and Audits
NYSUT constitution – Article 6: Dues