At other institutions where postdocs have unions, collective bargaining has not produced these results. Because all union decisions will be made by postdocs and researchers, we will collectively decide what to ask for in bargaining at Columbia.
And as a union we will have access to Columbia University’s financial information that affects postdoctoral researchers, which will make it possible for us to be well-informed and conscientious as we engage in bargaining. Both the union membership and the administration have to agree on a contract and neither party would want a result that hurts the quality research happening at Columbia University. Collective bargaining simply means we can negotiate as equals in order to hold Columbia more accountable to do the best it can do.
Empirically, the overall number of RAs (and TAs) has grown at the University of Washington since unionization in 2004, as has the number of postdocs at the University of California since unionization in 2008. Overall grant revenue has also increased at UW and UC over those years, showing that these institutions remain competitive in recruiting top talent to their research programs.
In addition, many PIs appreciate working with unionized researchers, because a union contract means PIs do not have to negotiate every term and condition of employment (from wages to health care to leave to childcare to non-discrimination protections to vacation to appointment letter terms, etc) and instead can focus on their research.
With a union, wage and benefits improvements are negotiated centrally through Columbia University’s administration, but likely, with the flexibility and encouragement for PIs who can afford it to pay their researchers more than the contractually mandated minimums. Columbia University is responsible for agreeing to terms that enable departments and PIs to meet contractual commitments. In some cases, as in the case of the wage increases fought for by the UAW and other labor unions and then mandated by the change in the Fair Labor Standards Act, the University has explained that funding for wage increases should come from the PIs grants where possible, but in cases where the grant cannot cover the increase, the attention could be brought to Deans for central funding.
In addition, a postdoc collective bargaining agreement can provide greater stability to help PIs predict how much funding they should write into their grant requests to support their postdocs.