We would pay dues/fees only after a democratic vote by postdoctoral researchers approving our first contract. Dues are critical for providing us with independent resources that are not controlled by the University: we use them to ensure we have appropriate legal, bargaining, community and staff support to represent all postdoctoral researchers. UAW membership dues are currently 1.44% of gross income and can only be increased by membership action (the membership in a few local unions, for example, have voted to increase dues above 1.44% to have more resources).
No one can be required to become a member of the Union after we have a contract. In most contracts, since everyone in the bargaining unit must receive all of the benefits of the contract, non-members are generally required to pay a comparable “fair share” fee, so the cost of representation is shared equally. The inclusion of a similar provision at Columbia would be something we decide as part of our bargaining agenda, would be subject to negotiation with Columbia, and contingent on ratification as part of our contract.
Most academic worker unions have such a provision in the contract because it means we have more power and more resources available to fight for the best possible contracts with the administration. Under the UAW, there is a one-time initiation fee, which ranges from $10 to $50 and is determined democratically in local union bylaws approved by members.
The value of increased wages and benefits in the first contract typically outweighs the cost of dues, often leading to overwhelming majority approval of those agreements. For example, the base wages for UC postdocs have gone up an average of 25% since they ratified their first contract in 2010. At the University of Connecticut, graduate assistants won an average annual total compensation increase of nearly 7% in their first contract.