Frequently Asked Questions


  1. What is WUGWU?


The WashU Undergraduate & Graduate Workers Union (WUGWU) is an independent organization of student workers at Washington University in St. Louis. We formed and formalized our affiliation with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 in the spring of 2016. We are research assistants, teaching assistants, lab assistants, lecturers, desk workers, and call center and recreation center workers. In other words, we represent all kinds of student workers at WashU.


We are at present a minority union; we do not yet have the membership of the majority of the campus’ student workers. This means that the Washington University administration will not collectively bargain with us at present. Therefore, we address issues that could otherwise be negotiated in the collective bargaining process (e.g. better pay, improved child care subsidies, a grievance procedure for cases of xenophobia and exploitation) through issue-based advocacy and direct action campaigns.


We stand in solidarity with other student and employee organizations which are fighting against WashU’s environmentally destructive investments in fossil fuels, and for the end of exploitative, sexist, and xenophobic conditions in the workplace.


  1. What has WUGWU accomplished so far?


Through direct action, and in partnership with our campus and community allies, WUGWU has secured a higher standard of living and ensured a healthier work environment at WashU for student workers and campus staff alike. Our victories include:


  • $15 per hour minimum wage for an estimated 1,200 full-time campus workers, both contracted and directly employed (including janitors, clerical workers, and food service workers), beginning July 1st, 2021, announced Summer 2019;

  • As an effect of WashU’s wage raise, our closely-affiliated healthcare system, Barnes-Jewish Children’s Healthcare, the largest employer in the St. Louis region, announced that 3,500 workers will also be going up to $15 per hour by July 1st, 2021. In combination with WashU’s wage raise, this will be an estimated $20 million per year in the hands of 4,700 workers in the St. Louis region, announced Fall 2019. This is in addition to the $68 billion in raises for 22 million workers that the larger Fight for $15 and a Union movement has won, according to the National Employment Law Project, as of 2018;

  • Reinstated 7th year pay for one of our members who her department excluded from being paid while the rest of her cohort was granted it, Fall 2019;

  • Resolved a departmental and Graduate School conflict for a graduate worker in order to reschedule his dissertation defense and receive his PhD, Fall 2019

  • Summer pay for graduate workers across the College of Arts & Sciences, announced and enacted Summer 2018;

  • Raising of the statewide minimum wage to $12/hour by 2023 (Proposition B), as a part of the Raise Up Missouri coalition, November 2018;

  • Enacted a platform of good government state laws (Amendment 1), such as anti-gerrymandering at the state legislature, a ban on gifts from lobbyists to legislators and a reduction of campaign contributions, strengthening public record law, as a part of the Clean Missouri coalition, November 2018;

  • Defeated a statewide anti-union right-to-work law (Proposition A) which financially attacks unions through divide-and-conquer tactics, as a part of the We Are Missouri coalition, August 2018;

  • Dental insurance and lower out-of-pocket premiums for university health insurance, announced Spring 2017;

  • Backpay for Physics graduate student workers and History graduate student workers, enacted Fall 2017 and Summer 2018.

  • Defeated Congress’ attempt to tax waived tuition as income for graduate student workers, in partnership with many unions across the US, Winter 2017


  1. What is the difference between the WashU Undergraduate & Graduate Workers Union and the Graduate Student Senate (GSS), Graduate and Professional Council (GPC), Graduate Council (GC), or Student Union Senate (SU)?


WUGWU is an independent, worker-run organization which operates within the jurisdiction of labor law and advocates for improving the conditions for undergraduate and graduate student workers on campus. GSS, GPC, GC, and SU are student government organizations which serve in an advisory capacity to the WashU administration. In GSS, GPC, and GC, each department is represented by one or two students who vote on proposed recommendations. SU operates similarly, though undergraduate senators are elected on campus-wide votes. Implementing these organizations’ recommendations remains entirely up to the administration. 


Within WUGWU, we encourage every member to express their opinions on issues at hand, widely discuss creative ways in which we can address the crucial problems student workers face, and collectively and independently take action. There are WUGWU members who are also members of GSS, GPC, GC, and SU, and we have worked with these organizations in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future. Another difference between the two kinds of organizations is that WUGWU is a self-funded organization, which helps keep the organization independent of the whims of its members’ employer, whereas GSS’s funding is controlled by the administration, which constrains it to operate under the parameters assigned by Wash U. As our funding comes from workers, we have the independence and the freedom to make decisions about ourselves, for ourselves. 


  1. Why do we pay dues?


Washington University is an institution with $14 billion in total assets as of 2019. The administration is able to spend from this vast wealth to stonewall progress, and we need our own pool of resources in order to change what we want to change. For that reason, all WUGWU members pay dues of $15/month (or $150/year), and we are also supported in part by dues paid by other SEIU members in St. Louis and around the US and Canada.


Money from dues is used to pay for the things that make our work successful. Dues pay for megaphones and signs at rallies, for food at social events and meetings, for our full-time organizers’ salaries, and for lawyers to represent us, among other things. It is no exaggeration to say that without the pooling of our wages, we never could have achieved any of the victories that we already have. Nationally, union dues average 2% of wages or salary, which are offset by higher salaries won from the strength of workers collectively bargaining together. The average wage difference between a unionized workforce and non-unionized workforce in the same occupation is +19%, according to the most recent (2019) annual report by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Disaggregating the data, the higher education occupation (employee-defined) and industry (employer-defined) wage differences are: 


Professional sector education, training, and library occupations (weekly wages):


$972 non-unionized workplace 

$1173 union members

21% or $201 union wage difference 

2% of salary in union dues equals $23.46

$1149 union wages, after dues 

18% union wage difference over non-union, after dues


Private sector educational services (weekly wages):


$994 for nonunion workplace

$1129 for union members

14% or $135 union wage difference 

2% of salary in union dues equals $22.58

$1106 for union wages, after dues

11% union wage difference over non-union, after dues


  1. Who is in charge of WUGWU? How is the agenda of WUGWU decided?


WUGWU is primarily run by its members. We believe in democratizing a workplace that does not currently allow for its student workers to make binding decisions about the terms and conditions of our employment such as wages, benefits, workplace civil rights, and immigrant and international student and worker rights. Our union is run on a daily basis by our democratically elected Executive Committee, who set the union’s agenda with rank-and-file members’ input. While we meet and consult with various administrators, faculty members, and SEIU Local 1, no major decisions are made without our members’ participation.


  1. What is SEIU? What is WUGWU’s relationship with SEIU?


SEIU is the Service Employees International Union, North America’s fastest growing union and second largest union overall. SEIU was established in Chicago in 1921, originally organizing janitors, elevator operators, and window washers. Across the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada, SEIU now represents well over 100 professions, including:



An international union committed to racial and economic justice, as well as other forms of justice, like fighting for higher minimum wages and fighting against sexual harassment in the food service industry through the Fight for $15 movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called the New York-based 1199SEIU his “favorite union.”


As unions are heavily legally regulated entities in the US, we prefer to work alongside experts who have been successfully running a union of millions for almost 100 years. We therefore organize with SEIU Local 1 in order to have the resources we need, such as the full-time organizers who work with us, to win our campaigns. As SEIU Local 1 represents adjunct faculty at WashU, Saint Louis University, St. Louis Community College, and St. Charles Community College, in addition to campus housekeepers and other workers across the region, we believe in organizing together across professions to build a strong and diverse workers’ movement with Unions for All. With all that said, we student workers still make all of our important decisions about our union for ourselves.


  1. Who is eligible to join WUGWU?


Any student, worker, or student worker who is professionally/academically affiliated with Washington University in St. Louis. Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, Assistants in Instruction, Student Workers enrolled in “Mentored Teaching, Research, or Professional Experiences” (MTE/MRE/MPE), and hourly student workers make up most of our membership. We have also have many student workers in grant-funded labs.


We have or have had members in 47 departments and programs such as Anthropology (Archaeology; Biological; and Sociocultural); Art History and Archaeology (MA and PhD); Biochemistry, Structural Biology, and Biophysics; Chemistry; Comparative Literature; Computational and Systems Biology; Computer Science and Engineering; Classics; the Division of Computational & Data Sciences; Earth and Planetary Sciences; East Asian Languages and Cultures; Economics; Education; Electrical and Systems Engineering; English and American Literature (MFA and PhD); Evolution, Ecology, and Population Biology; Film & Media Studies; Germanic Languages and Literatures; History; the Institute of Materials Science and Engineering; Imaging Sciences; Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies; Law; Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning; Mathematics and Statistics; Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science; Molecular Genetics and Genomics; Music; Neurosciences; Organizational Behavior; Performing Arts; Philosophy; Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology; Physics; Plant and Microbial Biosciences; Political Science; Occupational Therapy; Psychological and Brain Sciences; Romance Languages and Literatures (French and Spanish); Social Work and Public Health at the Brown School (MSW, MPH, and PhD); Sustainable Urban Development; and Visual Art. We have or have had members from hourly work sites such as research labs, libraries, the call center, and the athletic center. You can join by filling out the membership form here.


  1. Can I join the union as an international student?


Yes, of course! There are very few student worker unions without international members in the US. WUGWU members have come from West Africa, East and South Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and Europe, with residents and citizens from over 20 nations joining together within our union. We also have an International Committee composed of, by, and for our international student worker population. Your right to join a union is federally protected under American labor law.


  1. What will my professors, advisors, principal investigators (PIs), or supervisors think if I support our union?


There have been a wide range of opinions among faculty and supervisors toward their workers unionizing at WashU, including faculty being strongly in favor, loudly opposed, or completely neutral. While we work closely with our faculty members for our research projects and on our union campaigns, our duty is to speak to the issues that affect student workers at WashU. Furthermore, under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, one’s supervisor cannot interfere with, spy on, or even ask about workers coming together in a union. A helpful acronym is TIPS: Threats, Interrogation, Promises, and Surveillance/Spying by bosses, managers, supervisors, etc., as methods of deterring unions, are illegal under the federal National Labor Relations Act. Should an advisor or PI ask about our union, it is your right to reply “I do not have to answer that question,” and we would strongly encourage you to let us know about said conversation.


  1. What is WUGWU’s current platform?


  • A $15/hour minimum wage, pegged to the Consumer Price Index, for every campus worker and graduate and undergraduate student worker at WashU.

    1. In addition to the $15/hour minimum wage for 1,200 full-time campus staff and contract workers, it is time WashU pay its student workers a living wage, too. That means at least $15/hour for those paid hourly and at least $31,200/year for those paid a salary or stipend.

  • Improvements in childcare for all WashU working parents, including directly employed and contracted workers, grad workers, and faculty:

    • Total childcare subsidization for all campus workers;

    • Paid time off for new parents;

    • More feeding rooms than what are currently offered (12 total, only 7 on the Danforth Campus);

    • Better transit options for working parents;

    • Transparent policies of which buildings infants and toddlers are allowed into;

    • Transparent policies and prompt communication of department-specific accommodations available during pregnancy and post-partum;

    • Clean and available refrigerators for milk storage.

  • Increased protections for international and immigrant students and workers, and an end to racism and xenophobia on WashU’s campus. We demand:

    • The protected right for international students to speak the language of their choice;

    • That WashU institute a course, every semester, to approve off-campus employment eligibility for international students by strengthening the university’s Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program, similar to what Yale University has recently done;

    • That WashU sponsor green card and permanent citizenship status for international faculty and students, as Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey does;

    • The allowing of any detained or deported students or those refused re-entry to the US to complete their degrees through distance learning initiatives and continue to receive any scholarships, loan disbursements, and other sources of financial security;

    • A guarantee that any detained or deported workers or those refused re-entry to the US are compensated for their total hours worked prior to detainment or deportation;

    • A reaffirmation that Washington University will reject giving any assistance (e.g., document request, detainments for deportation proceedings, education) to ICE or other federal agencies without a court-ordered warrant or subpoena;

    • An assurance that undocumented students and international students continue to receive financial assistance (e.g. scholarships, fellowships, stipends, etc.) should any legal proceedings occur against them;

    • The offering of confidential and free legal counseling at the Office for International Students and Scholars or other willing campus or community bodies, e.g., the Immigration Law Clinic;

    • The maintenance of immigrant and international students’ and workers’ visa statuses regardless of their political views (e.g. issues like climate change, immigration, anti-war protesting, and unionization);

    • The reimbursement all visa, Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS), and Optional Practical Training (OPT) fees and provision of tax and financial assistance for international students, to align our policies with other institutions, like the University of Connecticut;

    • Lobbying for federal immigration reform: to allow for more F-1, F-2, M-1, J-1, H-1B, and K-1 visas, an increase in asylum and refugee admissions and Temporary Protected Status recipients, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented US residents, as an expansion of the university’s continued support for DACA;

    • The creation of a committee composed of undergraduate students, graduate students, campus workers, faculty, administrators, and community partners to meet quarterly, at a minimum, to ensure that these policies are successfully enacted. This panel will be formed by at least two persons of these groups and should have at least 50 percent international membership from campus workers and the student body.

  • Expansion of Medicaid to cover the healthcare of people at 138% of the federal poverty line (under $18,000/year for an individual or $30,000/year for a family of three) in the state of Missouri, as a part of the Healthcare for Missouri coalition

    • Medicaid expansion would provide health insurance for over 200,000 Missourians

    • We gathered hundreds of signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the November 2020 ballot! We will also be getting out the vote to ensure that Medicaid expansion happens in Missouri.