What is Columbia Postdoctoral Workers, UAW Local 4100?

CPW-UAW, Local 4100 is not just an advocacy organization but a labor union for postdocs and Associate researchers (ARSs) at Columbia university. This means that we are legally recognized as representatives of the postdocs/ARSs at Columbia University. 

Postdocs and ARSs run all aspects of the union including serving as members of the bargaining team, elected officers, and volunteer activists. Our economic support comes from postdocs and ARSs at Columbia in the form of membership dues and agency fees. 

Unions in the US are a way for workers at a specific workplace to collectivize economic resources to protect and help each other. As individual postdoc/ARSs we are very vulnerable but when joining together as a union we are legally recognized by the US government and are able to address the university on equal footing. That is why back in 2018, inspired by other postdoc unions (like in the University of California, University of Washington etc.) we formed our union here at Columbia, to improve our working conditions and be able to enforce our rights. For background here are some highlights of the changes.

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Now that our contract is in effect, what happens next?

We will now work to ensure that our new contract is consistently enforced.  If you have a workplace problem, or believe the University is not respecting the rights we negotiated in our contract, please contact the Union at  columbiapostdocunion@gmail.com  or fill in our Workplace Issue Form and we will work with you to address the situation.

As a Local Union in the UAW, we will also now take various steps to establish our union Local. There will be many opportunities for union members to get involved in these activities; click here if you would like to get involved

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How do I become a member of the Union and how much are membership dues?

Any Postdoctoral Research Scientist/Scholar, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, or Associate Research Scientist/Scholar can now become a member of CPW-UAW Local 4100 by signing a membership card and paying membership dues, which are 1.44% of gross pay. Click here to sign up as a member of CPW-UAW Local 4100.

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Why do we pay membership dues? How are dues allocated and used?

It takes resources to maintain a strong union and engage in effective representation. Dues provide such resources (see pie chart below for breakdown). How dues are spent by our Local Union is determined democratically by union members.  Consistent with the UAW Constitution, our Local Union will have regular membership meetings where financial reports and priorities are presented and discussed.  

Most of the work of enforcing the contract and representing membership is carried out and financially supported by the Local Union.  A UAW Local Union like ours typically retains more than 1/3 of membership dues for such work, which includes:

  • Educating employees about their rights and the union
  • Advising employees with problems and supporting them through the grievance process if necessary
  • Working to ensure that the University implements all terms of our contract
  • Paying for arbitration costs if a grievance cannot be resolved with the University
  • Putting on relevant events on topics like visa/immigration rights, taxes, equity and inclusion in science, etc.
  • Future contract negotiations
  • Local Union advocacy efforts on public policy that supports research and researchers

An additional 1/4 of dues goes to the International UAW’s General Fund, which provides support for contract enforcement and future contract negotiations, as well as new organizing campaigns. The remainder of dues goes to the UAW Community Action Program (3%) and UAW Strike and Defense Fund (44%, though as long as the fund stays over $500 million, which has been the case for many years, Local Unions receive a “rebate” such that the Local retains about 37% of all dues money).

The portion of dues allocated to the International UAW supports Local Unions and members in a variety of ways, such as:

  • training support for grievance handling and internal organizing/outreach best practices;
  • access to support on legal issues or technical topics like health and safety or benefits;
  •  support for new organizing campaigns (all the resources that helped us win our union and first contract were paid for by other UAW members over the last several years);
  • a stronger political voice alongside 80,000 other academic workers – UAW academic workers in recent years have effectively advocated on a variety of issues of great importance to researchers, such as: increasing federal science funding, the expansion of Optional Practical Training for international scholars, inclusion of postdocs in the 2016 overtime regulations under the Obama administration, filing amicus briefs against the Trump travel bans, expanding the right to unionize for graduate and other academic workers, etc.

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Does the contract mean I am required to be a member of the union and pay dues? I heard I have to pay either way.

No one can be required to become a union member. Since the union is obligated to represent all employees in the bargaining unit regardless of membership, it is a condition of employment under our agreement with Columbia that individuals share the cost of representation.  Individuals must therefore either become a member and pay dues, or, if objecting to being a union member, pay a  “fair share” fee to cover the cost of representation. The objecting, non-member fee is calculated annually by the Union according to legal requirements, but historically tends to be roughly 85% of membership dues. Given how small the difference is between dues and fair share fees (likely to be roughly $16 per month for someone making $66,100), we strongly encourage all researchers to sign up as members since it strengthens our collective voice.

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How do I contribute dues or fair share fees?

Under our contract with Columbia, the university administration agreed to deduct dues and fair share fees if authorized to do so by the researcher. This was an important success in bargaining in that it helps ensure that we can quickly and effectively pool our resources so that our Local Union is strong. Most researchers choose this method because it is less burdensome for both the individual and for the Local Union. This online form allows you to choose between membership and fair share fees and authorize deductions. 

A second option is to through electronic payments directly to our Local Union. If you would like to set this up, please send us an email at columbiapostdocunion@gmail.com.

Finally, you can also fulfill this condition of employment by sending a monthly cheque, made out to “Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW Local 4100” to the following address, with the month(s) for which you are paying and “Dues” or “Agency Fees” in the memo line: 

ATTN Financial Secretary
CPW-UAW Local 4100
350 W 31st St, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Dues are an important source of power for our Local Union, providing independent resources to help with enforcing our contractual rights, and campaigning to win more improvements. If you have any questions about paying dues or fees, always feel free to get in touch with your steward or elected union leadership.

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Why should I become a member of the Union?

Click here to sign up for CPW-UAW Local 4100.  Signing up as a member strengthens our collective voice as Postdoc and Associate Researchers at Columbia and beyond.  Consistent majority support and participation enabled us to win improvements in our first contract, will enable us to most effectively enforce our rights under the contract, empower us to negotiate future improvements, and enhance our ability to advocate more broadly on issues like science funding, international workers’ rights and civil rights alongside 80,000 other academic workers in the UAW. Signing up also makes our union more democratic and inclusive since membership gives you the right to participate in the governance of our local union, through elections, votes, committees, and other processes. 

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How can I participate in decision-making in our Local Union?

One Local Bylaws describe the governance structure of our Local, including how we make decisions collectively in our union.

According to the UAW constitution, and as has worked at other UAW academic worker Locals, the members are the highest authority and we meet at least once per month to discuss and take decisions about our union. Check our calendar!

Members elect an Executive Board (President, Vice-President, etc.) to represent them in between membership meetings. We also have elected a number of Stewards to help organize and enforce workers’ rights under the contract.

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Who is currently in the Union leadership?

Consistent with the UAW’s Constitution, our Local Union will have an executive board made up of the following 9 officers: President, Vice President, Financial Secretary, Recording Secretary, Trustees (3), Sergeant-at-arms and Guide. We elected officers for our Local Union in September 2020. Click here to read statements from our elected representatives.

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Why did we choose the UAW?

The UAW represents more than 65,000 academic workers across the United States, including more postdocs and graduate student employees than any other union. In the last four years alone, nearly 10,000 academic workers in the New York City area have chosen to become part of the UAW.

Read more here about UAW success helping academic workers negotiate concrete improvements to wages, benefits and workplace rights.

The UAW has particular experience negotiating and enforcing strong postdoc contracts. Most recently postdocs at the University of Washington voted by an overwhelming 89% percent to form their union with the UAW. The 7,000 postdocs at the ten University of California campuses approved their first UAW contract in 2010, and those at the University of Massachusetts approved their first contract in 2012.

More than 3,000 Columbia graduate student employees recently voted by an overwhelming 72% in favor of Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW as their union.  In addition to drawing on the UAW’s wide experience bargaining contracts with university administrators, we can exercise a stronger political voice through the UAW.  With active members at more than 45 major campuses across the US, the UAW has become a strong advocate on policy issues that matter to us as academics, such as federal support for science funding and enhancing the rights of international research scientists.


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What are Union Stewards?

Stewards are Postdocs and ARS representatives who are elected to help with organizing and mobilizing in their respective districts, enforcing the contract and assisting with workplace issues and grievances, and ensuring good communication across Columbia.

There are twenty-seven (27) steward positions divided into districts. Check this District Map to determine which district you are in and how many steward positions your district will have. Per the bylaws, there is one (1) steward per 75 workers.

All stewards will receive training on organizing and grievance handling, and have the active support of the Executive Board and union staff in carrying out their duties. Electing stewards to assist with contract enforcement and organizing is an important next step for our Local Union.

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Do I automatically become a member if I signed an authorization card at some point during our campaign?

No. Those who signed CPW-UAW authorization cards during our organizing and contract campaigns are not automatically considered members of the Union.  You must sign a CPW-UAW Local 4100 membership card to become a member.

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How does a neutral grievance procedure allow us to enforce the contract?

A neutral grievance procedure allows a member of the union to file a grievance if any part of the contract is not being enforced. The grievance procedure would ensure a fair process for PARs to have their grievance heard and addressed by the University in a timely manner. If the grievance is not resolved, a PAR would have the ability to go to arbitration, in which a neutral third party would resolve the dispute. A fair grievance procedure will make our contract stronger and more enforceable, e.g. by providing PARs with stronger recourse against discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying. At UConn, for example, graduate assistants have used their grievance process to successfully resolve instances of harassment.

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Why have postdoctoral researchers formed a union?

We formed a union because we believe that it is time for postdocs and researchers to advocate for ourselves collectively and on equal footing with the Columbia administration, particularly in an increasingly uncertain political and economic environment. We want to bargain and enforce our own terms and conditions of employment like the tens of thousands of graduate employees and postdocs across the country have done. Similarly we want a stronger voice in key policy decisions made outside the University but that affect us as researchers: federal funding for scientific research; compensation standards, such as the new overtime rules passed in 2016 by the US Department of Labor; and federal rules affecting immigrant and guest workers.  

By joining with unionized academic workers nationwide we hope to make changes that will create more positive work environments for future postdocs and improve career pathways for future scientists in the US and beyond.

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What is the difference between the Columbia University Postdoc Society (CUPS) and a union?

Both a strong union and a postdoc organization can play an important role in improving the lives of Columbia University postdocs. While CUPS is a university sponsored and supported association that makes it possible for postdocs to participate in numerous social and career development opportunities, the organization is not an alternative to a union.

CUPS can make recommendations to the administration on behalf of postdocs and researchers but cannot serve as a representative in bargaining collectively as equals with the Columbia University administration over wages, benefits, and the terms and conditions of employment to reach a binding contract. CUPS can – and does – give input on improving the postdoc experience, but their input is not as powerful or potentially binding as a union’s would be.

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Why a union instead of an advocacy organization?

Only a union with collective bargaining rights has the power to negotiate a binding contract with an employer as equals. With a union, postdocs elect representatives to negotiate on equal footing with the Columbia University Administration for improvements. The postdoc union at the University of California (UAW Local 5810) has used their collective bargaining rights to improve their wages, guarantee annual wage increases, secure paid parental leave, improve job security through longer appointments, improve protections from discrimination and sexual harassment, secure career development support, and more. Without collective bargaining, the university has unilateral power to change our working conditions or decide whether or not to make improvements.

Additionally, as more postdocs form unions, like at the University of Washington, we will have a stronger voice to advocate on broader issues such as increasing public investment in research, better visa and immigration policies for international postdocs, and better working conditions for all researchers.

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Now that we have a union, who has the final say in what happens?

Columbia postdoctoral researchers make up the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers union. Now that CPW-UAW has been recognized, we have been engaging in the process of negotiating a contract with Columbia by:

  • Electing a bargaining committee from among Columbia researchers.
  • Based on surveys, the committee has developed initial bargaining proposals; before bargaining commenced, we, postdocs and Associate Research Scientists voted to ratify these goals;
  • The committee has been meeting with university representatives to negotiate in pursuit of our bargaining goals;
  • When our committee has negotiated a tentative agreement with the University they feel they can recommend, researchers will vote whether to ratify it as our first contract;
  • The bargaining committee will be aided throughout by experienced negotiators and our regional UAW representatives;
  • After the contract is ratified, the membership will elect representatives who help run the Union and help members with any problems they have in the workplace

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What are the rights of international postdocs to join the union?

International postdocs and researchers have the same legal right to join a union as US citizens. International employees have been instrumental in organizing and running the University of California postdocs union (UAW Local 5810) and the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2210) Unionization can result in protections that are especially valuable for international academic employees.

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Am I included in the postdoc union?

Columbia Postdoctoral Workers (CPW-UAW) represents anyone who holds a postdoctoral position or is classified as an Associate Research Scientist/Scholar. Postdocs at Columbia are typically classified into five main job titles, which we refer to collectively as “PARs”: Postdoctoral Research Scientist/Scholar, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, or an Associate Research Scientist/Scholar. The union includes all Columbia University employees who fall under these job titles as well as other titles that are determined to fit our unit definition.

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