- How does a neutral grievance procedure allow us to enforce the contract?
- How would our proposal improve on currently existing process, such as Columbia’s IX and the Ombuds office?
- Why is Columbia opposed to bargaining additional protections against bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination?
- Will the union protect me if a sign?
- Why is the administration resistant to so many of our proposals?
- Who has the administration chosen to bargain with the union?/Who is representing each side in bargaining with the union?
- When are we going to have a contract?
- What does the process of bargaining with Columbia look like?
NLRB AND ELECTION QUESTIONS
- When was our union election and was I eligible to vote?
- Would I be included in the postdoc union?
- I heard CPW-UAW filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. What does that mean?
- I think I might be a supervisor. Does that affect my eligibility for the election and union?
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE DEMOCRATIC STRUCTURE OF THE UAW
- How does the UAW define democracy on issues like BDS?
- Why did the UAW rule that a graduate worker union vote to endorse BDS was out of order?
- I’ve heard the UAW leaders in Chicago refused to help their own members with sexual harassment?
- I heard national UAW leaders were convicted of corruption. Why should we partner with a corrupt organization?
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
- What is CPW-UAW working on right now?
- Why have postdoctoral researchers formed a union?
- What is collective bargaining?
- What is the difference between the Columbia University Postdoc Society (CUPS) and a union?
- Why a union instead of an advocacy organization?
- Columbia just raised the minimum salary for postdocs. Why do we need a union?
- Will international postdocs benefit from joining the UAW?
- What are the rights of international postdocs to join the union?
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE UAW AND MEMBERSHIP DUES
- Why did we choose the UAW?
- Now that we have a union, who has the final say in what happens?
- What are union dues, fair share fee, and initiation fee amounts and when would we start paying?
- Where would our union dues go?
QUESTIONS GENERATED BY THE UNIVERSITY
- Will we have to strike?
- My PI does not have a lot of money. Will a union hurt our PIs or lead to fewer postdoc positions?
- Does everyone in a union have to make the same amount?
- I heard an administrator say if we unionize and negotiate pay increases, we might have fewer jobs overall.
- The EVP email made it sound like the Union would level salaries and bring mine as an Associate Research Scientist down to the salary level of Postdocs who make less than me. Has that happened at other universities with unions?
- I heard Columbia claim that the UAW opposes the rights of international workers to work in the US. Is that true?
- The Executive Vice President for Research says the union might negotiate a limit on how many hours I can spend in the lab. Has that happened at other universities?
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.Back to Index
How would our proposal improve on currently existing process, such as Columbia’s IX and the Ombuds office?
Our union has proposed additional protections to address discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying while maintaining the existing procedures under current University policy. While there are several options at Columbia to make a complaints about harassment and discrimination, there is no independent way to ensure that grievances are fairly addressed and that survivors of harassment and discrimination are protected. Columbia’s Title IX office, the Equal Employment and Affirmative Action Office and the Ombuds office are all overseen by University administrators.
Our proposal would allow a PAR to have an additional avenue of recourse if they had gone through University processes without a satisfactory resolution to their complaint. A grievance procedure that includes binding, neutral third party arbitration ensures that PARs have stronger recourse against discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying.Back to Index
Why is Columbia opposed to bargaining additional protections against bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination?
Currently, the administration is able to decide unilaterally how instances of harassment and discrimination are addressed under their own policy. Our proposals would provide PARs with an equal ability to enforce the policy and additional recourse if they believed that the outcome of a University process was insufficient.
In one of our earliest negotiation sessions, the administration made proposals that would require PARs to use only currently existing policies in cases of harassment and discrimination, even though many researchers voted to form a union because Columbia’s current policies are insufficient. In response to the administration’s proposal, our bargaining team has proposed a grievance procedure giving researchers the option of requesting a neutral, independent third-party to enforce protections against harassment and discrimination.Back to Index
Will the union protect me if a sign?
International researchers and US citizens have legal right to join a union. The UAW represents over 75,000 employees who work at universities across the US and have represented workers in a variety of employment situations. Postdoctoral researchers have had a union for over 10 years at the University of California (UAW Local 5810) and the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2210) unionization effort began over 4 years ago on Columbia’s campus, securing many workplace improvements for employees on both campuses. Unionization can result in protections that are especially valuable for international academic employees.Back to Index
Why is the administration resistant to so many of our proposals?
All of our proposals reflect the priorities of a majority of PARs, and many are intended to give PARs more rights and decision-making power over our working conditions. Many of our proposals are created to give PARs protections against harassment and bullying, more job security, and a grievance procedure that includes the option of a neutral, independent third-party.
Although our overwhelming 68% “yes” vote to form a union in October 2018 means Columbia is required to negotiate with us as equals over these issues, they have expressed their desire to retain decision-making power over our working conditions in as many areas as possible in order to maintain the status quo.Back to Index
Who has the administration chosen to bargain with the union?/Who is representing each side in bargaining with the union?
Our union’s elected bargaining committee consists of Melissa McKenzie, (PRS, Department of Pathology and Cell Biology) Medini Annavajhala (PRS, Department of Medicine – Infectious Diseases) Steven Cook (PRF, Department of Biological Sciences) Hila Milo Rasouly (ARS, Department of Medicine – Nephrology) Sonny Harman (PRS, Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics) Tulsi Patel (PRF, Department of Pathology and Cellular Biology) Andrew Zaharia (PRS, Zuckerman Institute) and Ignacio Hernandez-Morato (Alternate, ARS, Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery). Read more about our bargaining committee here.
The University’s bargaining team consists of Bernie Plum, an attorney with the law firm Proskauer Rose, Dan Driscoll (Vice-President and Chief Human Resources Officer) Patsy Catapano (Associate General Counsel) Linda Mischel Eisner (Director of Special Projects, Office of the President), Julia Hirschberg (Professor of Computer Science), Bill Innes (Associate Vice Dean-Human Resources at Columbia), Wil McCoy (Assistant Vice President, Budget and Planning at Columbia University Medical Center), Mary Ann Carlese (Senior Director, Labor Relations), Art Lerner-Lam (Deputy Director: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory), Rose Razaghian (Dean of Academic Planning and Governance), Mike Shelanski (Senior Vice Dean for Research & Co-Director, Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain).Back to Index
When are we going to have a contract?
We want to reach an agreement as soon as possible, and the more power we build through participating and showing support for our union’s goals, the more pressure we can put on Columbia not to slow down the process and reach a fair agreement in a reasonable period of time. Our bargaining committee is hopeful that with strong participation from PARs across Columbia we can reach a fair agreement with the University.
Based on Columbia’s proposed framework for bargaining, we have agreed not to go on strike before April 5th, 2020. If Columbia is not agreeing to a fair agreement by April 5th, 2020 PARs would have the ability to vote to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike if they deemed it necessary to reach a fair agreement. While it would be our collective decision whether or not to strike, and a strike can only be democratically approved by a ⅔ majority vote, this provides a clear deadline for Columbia to reach an agreement with our union.Back to Index
What does the process of bargaining with Columbia look like?
Our bargaining committee drafts proposals based on surveys collected from a majority of Postdocs and Associate Research Scientists (PARs), with the help of volunteer working groups. Then, we make written proposals to Columbia during regularly held bargaining sessions and Columbia makes written counter proposals. We continue this process until we reach agreements that both sides can accept on each topic. Once we’ve reached a “tentative agreement” on all the topics we want to cover in the contract, members of the unit have the opportunity to vote to ratify the contract, and if it is ratified it would then go into effect.Back to Index
When was our union election and was I eligible to vote?
According to the regional NLRB election order, eligible voters included Postdoctoral Research Scientists, Postdoctoral Research Scholars, Postdoctoral Research Fellows, Associate Research Scientists and Associate Research Scholars who were employed during the payroll period ending September 15, 2018, and those paid by stipends on September 1, 2018.
Voting times and locations were:
- Morningside, Earl Hall, 2nd floor Auditorium 10am-2pm, 3pm-7pm
- CUMC, Hammer Building, Study Hall LL1-104 10am-2pm, 3pm-7pm
- Manhattanville, Jerome L. Greene Science Center, Room L7-119, 7th floor 1pm-3pm
- Lamont Doherty, Geoscience Center, Room 113 11am-1pm (not Sutton House)
- Nevis Laboratory, Irvington, NY, Library 136 Broadway 10am-11am
- Morningside, Earl Hall, 2nd floor Auditorium 10am-2pm, 3pm-7pm
- CUMC, Hammer Building, Study Hall LL1-104 10am-2pm, 3pm-7pm
- Lamont Doherty, Geoscience Center, Room 113 11am-1pm
The University challenged the makeup of the union. The administration claimed that “Postdoctoral trainees are merely ‘trainees,’” that we “seek positions at Columbia not as a job or as a career, but instead for educational and training purposes“ and that “The tasks performed by postdoctoral trainees are fundamentally educational and are part of their training.” They argued that Postdoctoral Scientists/Scholars and Fellows should therefore be denied the right to a union altogether. They also argued that, even if the NLRB were to allow Postdocs to have a union, that Associate Research Scientists did not belong in a union with Postdocs because the work is too different and they do not share a “community of interest.” We had two days of hearings at the NLRB.Back to Index
Would I be 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.Back to Index
I heard CPW-UAW filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. What does that mean?
In the summer of 2018 we took an exciting step toward establishing CPW-UAW as our union. After a strong majority of postdoctoral researchers signed up for the union, we petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold an election so we can vote to certify CPW-UAW as our union. The NLRB conducted two days of hearings to determine who would be eligible to participate in our union, after which our election was held and PARs voted by an overwhelming 68% to form CPW-UAW as our union.Back to Index
I think I might be a supervisor. Does that affect my eligibility for the election and union?
If you are a supervisor as defined by the National Labor Relations Act NLRA), you would be excluded from the bargaining unit and therefore not eligible to vote or be represented by the union. The NLRA defines a supervisor as someone who has the authority to do at least one of the following: hire; transfer; suspend; lay off; recall (from layoff); promote; discharge; assign; reward; discipline; “responsibly” direct other employees; or adjust grievances, and that such actions require “independent judgement.” If you think you might be a supervisor, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]
How does the UAW define democracy on issues like BDS?
Much of the appeal of the BDS vote in California revolved around interpretation of the Ethical Practices Code (EPC), a key component of the UAW Constitution that codifies the Union’s intent to promote internal democracy while also attempting to balance the interests of ALL members of the Union. The key passage is the following. “Each member shall be entitled to a full share in Union self-government. Each member shall have full freedom of speech and the right to participate in the democratic decisions of the Union. Subject to reasonable rules and regulations, each member shall have the right to run for office, to nominate and to vote in free, fair and honest elections. In a democratic union, as in a democratic society, every member has certain rights but s/he also must accept certain corresponding obligations. Each member shall have the right freely to criticize the policies and personalities of Union officials; however, this does not include the right to undermine the Union as an institution; to vilify other members of the Union and its elected officials or to carry on activities with complete disregard of the rights of other members and the interests of the Union; to subvert the Union in collective bargaining or to advocate or engage in dual unionism.”
The UAW definition of democracy also encompasses a commitment, in Article 2 of the Constitution, to further “the improvement of general economic and social conditions in the United States of America, Canada, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and generally in the nations of the world.”
The UAW is unique in the US labor movement in that it allows appeals like the one from the member in California to go to the independent PRB, so that a neutral party decides whether the UAW has followed its own democratic procedures.Back to Index
Why did the UAW rule that a graduate worker union vote to endorse BDS was out of order?
A member in the union at UC appealed the vote for numerous reasons, including that he thought the vote exceeded the Local Union’s authority under the democratic structure of the UAW Constitution. The UAW International Executive Board (IEB), and, subsequently, an independent review board unique to the UAW agreed that the vote exceeded the Local’s authority because positions on major political issues are set by the IEB, since it represents and has to balance the interests of hundreds of locals and 400,000 individual members across the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. In other words, the vote in California has no effect on the national position of the UAW. A little over 2,000 members, out of 400,000, have voted to support BDS.Back to Index
I’ve heard the UAW leaders in Chicago refused to help their own members with sexual harassment?
The alleged behavior of those leaders is appalling. While some local union leaders have been resistant to the union being a vehicle to address issues of sexual harassment, academic locals have addressed these issues through the union with increasing success. The appalling behavior of leaders in another workplace does not negate the fact that unionization enables us to negotiate stronger avenues of recourse, such as graduate assistants did at the university of Connecticut and postdocs at the University of California. At UConn, for example, graduate assistants have used their grievance process to successfully resolve instances of harassment.Back to Index
I heard national UAW leaders were convicted of corruption. Why should we partner with a corrupt organization?
The alleged activity of these individuals, which has led to indictment of one former national UAW leader, is appalling, highly unusual and goes against the fundamental values of transparency and accountability the UAW has upheld for more than 80 years.
This activity did not involve UAW membership dues money, but rather Chrysler money that funds the National Training Center (NTC). Fortunately, the UAW has a long-standing, strict system of transparency and accountability to prevent individuals from misusing members’ dues money. The Union has worked actively with Chrysler to see that financial protections and oversight are in place to prevent this type of thing from occurring again at the NTC. Last fall, after indictments were issued in the UAW-Chrysler NTC investigation, the federal government began an inquiry into the joint program centers the UAW has established through collective bargaining.Back to Index
What is CPW-UAW working on right now?
In 2018, we filed a petition to form a union with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), who then held an election of all eligible researchers working for Columbia University to determine whether we would form a union. We won our union election with an overwhelming 68% “yes” vote, and the University now has a legal obligation to negotiate in good faith for a contract covering pay, benefits and rights and protections for us at Columbia. Since then, we have collected bargaining surveys from a majority of PARs, elected a bargaining committee, ratified our bargaining goals, started negotiations with Columbia, and shown majority support for stronger protections against harassment and discrimination through an open letter to the university administration. We are also continuing to reach out to postdoctoral researchers across campus to build our union. Please contact us if you would like to sign up and/or get more involved.Back to Index
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.Back to Index
What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a legally-recognized process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, Columbia postdoctoral researchers would elect representatives to negotiate on equal footing with the Columbia Administration and put the terms of our employment into a legally binding contract. Through collective bargaining, postdoc and graduate employee unions have successfully negotiated improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.
Before we won our union election, Columbia University had unilateral power to change our conditions or decide whether or not to make improvements. For example, Columbia was able to decide unilaterally whether or not to make sure we get paid on time or whether our stipends and salaries keep up with the cost of living in New York City. Now, with collective bargaining, Columbia has a legal obligation to negotiate with us over our working conditions as equals.Back to Index
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.Back to Index
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.Back to Index
Columbia just raised the minimum salary for postdocs. Why do we need a union?
It is important to note that this decision originated outside the University. While Columbia made the laudable decision to implement the Department of Labor standards that the raise is based on, it was the UAW who helped lead the charge to ensure that postdocs would be included in the final standard.
Despite Columbia’s implementation of this new salary minimum, no organization is responsible for ensuring that all departments have complied with the new salaries and that each postdoc is being paid the required salary. A postdoc union would be able to ensure that every postdoc is being paid at the correct rate and would also have a structure in place to address any grievances arising from underpayment.
In addition, a postdoc union could bargain for guaranteed annual wage increases and much more than wage increases. Unions typically bargain for contractually-guaranteed benefits and protections such as paid parental leave, childcare, job security, protection from discrimination, career development support, protection from sexual harassment, and more.Back to Index
Will international postdocs benefit from joining the UAW?
Arguably the UAW has done more than any other organization nationwide to improve conditions for international students and scholars. For years UAW has fought hard to ensure that the contributions of guest workers are elevated and that the terms and conditions of their employment are improved. The UAW helped lead the fight to ensure that the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program was expanded after a lawsuit that threatened to reduce it. Recently the UAW helped lead the fight against the Executive Orders issued by President Trump which targeted international students and scholars.
The International Students Working Group of GWC-UAW Local 2110 has fought for years on Columbia’s campus to protect international student employees from wrongful termination, tax errors, unfair international student fees and the Trump administrations travel ban. The UAW’s commitment to international students and scholars stems from the leadership of international students and scholars themselves. Postdoc and graduate employee unions affiliated with UAW are often lead by international students and scholars, who serve in top leadership positions in local unions nationwide.
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.Back to Index
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.
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.
Back to Index
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
What are union dues, fair share fee, and initiation fee amounts and when would we start paying?
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.Back to Index
Where would our union dues go?
It takes resources to have a strong union, from the earliest stages of forming a union for the first time, to bargaining and campaigning for the first contract, to enforcing rights under an existing contract, and advocating on policy issues that matter to membership. Dues provide those resources. See below for more information.
Dues generally cover all of the day to day cost of having a strong union, including paying for the best legal representation, staffing, rent, equipment, and supplies.
Most of the day-to-day work enforcing the contract and representing our membership is provided by the Local Union. The Local Union automatically keeps 27% of dues money to support its expenses: staffing for representation, rent, equipment, supplies, etc. The rest of the dues is allocated to the International Union’s General Fund (26%), Strike and Defense Fund (44%), and Community Action Program (CAP) (3%). Columbia postdocs would be supported by these funds as described below. Depending on the overall financial health of the Strike and Defense Fund (if its net worth is $500M or greater), an additional allocation of dues called a “rebate” is given back to the Local and International Union. So, in typical months, the portion of dues retained by the local union is roughly 37%.
For a great example of local union work helping workers defend their rights, see this summary of successful grievance handling at the University of Washington, or this story about how the union at UConn has helped graduate assistants take on sexual harassment.
The portion of dues allocated to the International Union would support Columbia postdoctoral researchers in the following ways:
- Technical experts to help negotiate on equal terms with Columbia:
- Health insurance experts who can take on the University’s consultants in order to pursue the best benefits for the best price
- Researchers who can help analyze University finances.
- Legal advice where necessary
- Experienced negotiators to help achieve our goals, both at the bargaining table and in terms of developing an overall campaign to win a strong contract
- Support for new organizing campaigns (for example, the resources supporting Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW come from existing UAW members’ dues money)
- Political action: 3 percent of dues money goes toward the UAW Community Action Program (CAP), which supports progressive community and political action, including legislative and other policy advocacy on issues that matter to UAW members – for example, the UAW advocates strongly for fair, comprehensive immigration reform and expanded federal support for research funding, among other topics. [NOTE: legally, dues money cannot be used for federal campaign contributions, such as the presidential race—that money comes from members’ voluntary contributions separate from, and in addition to, dues.]
Will we have to strike?
With a union, all union decisions – including the decision about whether or not to strike – will be made democratically by postdoctoral researchers. With a union, postdocs and associate research scientists will collectively decide what to ask for in bargaining and whether or not a strike is necessary.
A strike is a very powerful tool for unionized workers, but a strike would only occur if union members decide a strike is necessary. The decision to strike is made collectively; under the UAW, two-thirds of those participating in a strike authorization vote must vote yes in order to authorize a strike. While a strike is most effective if we all participate, it is an individual decision whether or not to participate. Striking is a last resort as a tactic and is rare. Ninety-eight percent of union contracts are reached without a strike.
While strikes are rare, it is not uncommon that workers decide it is necessary to prepare for a possible strike in order to convince a university to reach a reasonable agreement during negotiations. At the University of California, for example, the postdoc union UAW Local 5810, reached an agreement with the administration after a majority of postdocs voted to authorize a strike. At New York University, the graduate employee union GSOC-UAW Local 2110 reached an agreement with NYU after a majority of graduate employees authorized the bargaining committee to call a strike if they deemed necessary.Back to Index
My PI does not have a lot of money. Will a union hurt our PIs or lead to fewer postdoc positions?
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.Back to Index
Does everyone in a union have to make the same amount?
No UAW union for academic workers has negotiated a contract that requires all covered employees to make the same amount. And because we as postdocs will make our own decisions about our contract we would likely not negotiate for or vote to approve a contract that requires all postdocs to be paid the same. As an example, we could propose a wage structure like the one that postdocs at the University of California bargained that includes:Back to Index
I heard an administrator say if we unionize and negotiate pay increases, we might have fewer jobs overall.
Collective bargaining at other universities has not produced this result. Because all union decisions will be made by postdocs and researchers, we will collectively decide what to ask for in bargaining. And as a union we will have access to Columbia University’s financial information that affects postdocs, which will make it possible for us to be well-informed and conscientious as we engage in bargaining.
It is a common misconception that by bargaining for improved working conditions, unions make it too expensive to employ workers. In reality, higher education unions have advocated for increased higher education and science funding while working for improved working conditions for scientists. As an example, advocacy by the postdoc union at the University of California has resulted in a 25% average wage increase for postdocs since 2010 while at the same time the number of postdocs employed by the University of California has increased from 5800 to 6200 since 2010.
Finally, we have more power to protect jobs through collective action and the protections of a legally binding contract. Most collective bargaining agreements prohibit the employer from terminating positions due to arbitrary or discriminatory reasons, or to take action that is inconsistent with job offers that were accepted by the employee. Not only would we be able to act collectively, but we would have the full backing of the many unionized employees on campus and the larger UAW International Union.Back to Index
The EVP email made it sound like the Union would level salaries and bring mine as an Associate Research Scientist down to the salary level of Postdocs who make less than me. Has that happened at other universities with unions?
No. Collective bargaining has not produced that result at the other unionized universities, because workers have never democratically decided to bargain for pay cuts to individual groups. Of the 75,000 postdocs, adjunct faculty and graduate workers in the UAW, it is very common to have a “bargaining unit” where pay rates before collective bargaining vary as widely as they do at Columbia, either between or within job classifications. Previous contracts have established improved minimum pay rates, guaranteed annual increases for all, and maintained the flexibility of individuals to negotiate higher rates where the University agrees to do so. No contract has reduced anyone’s pay to a lower level.
The University of California provides a good example, as postdoc salaries varied prior to the first contract and continue to vary after several rounds of contract negotiations. Their agreement ensures that all 7,000 UC Postdocs – at ten different Universities and one National Laboratory – are guaranteed minimum salaries that make them the highest paid Postdocs at a public university in the U.S., while preserving the flexibility of their PIs to pay them more than the minimums as individual circumstances dictate. The UC Postdoc contract states: “Nothing shall preclude the University from providing compensation to Postdoctoral Scholars at rates above those required in this Article. Such rates may be provided on appointment, reappointment, anniversary date, and/or as a merit increase.”
In another example, the University of Washington graduate student workers, probably the most similar to us since it has a large medical school with hundreds of RAs, a variable pay system existed before the contract and continues under the contract. Under that system, there are minimum pay rates that all departments must follow, but departments are free to pay higher rates. Graduate workers at UW democratically chose to preserve that system, and, while those at the lower pay rates have experienced larger increases, everyone’s pay has gone up after unionization.
In all cases, these guaranteed gains were larger than the small percentage in membership dues, which is why these contracts were overwhelmingly ratified.
Feel free to read summaries of the before and after effects of collective bargaining at these and various other universities on the CPW-UAW website.
At Columbia, we will decide what to bargain for and we will determine our own fates collectively with the ratification of our contract. In hundreds of conversations across campus over the last two years, no one has said the Union should propose leveling pay or that anyone should take a pay cut, so there is no basis for the union to propose pay leveling.Back to Index
I heard Columbia claim that the UAW opposes the rights of international workers to work in the US. Is that true?
No. In fact quite the opposite. As part of a powerful national political action program, which international academic workers have helped shape, the UAW has pursued a number of progressive resolutions on immigration and international worker issues. Below are excerpts from these resolutions. You can read the most recent UAW positions on immigration here. You can also read a powerful opinion piece by the postdoc union at University of Calironia in response to Columbia’s misleading claims during the graduate worker election in December 2016.
- International academic workers, who contribute enormously to the intellectual and cultural environment of educational institutions around the country, are routinely exploited in the workplace. They often receive low pay and few benefits. In addition, since Sept. 11, 2001, they have been the target of misguided, discriminatory policies that impose severe burdens. The recent wave of organizing in higher education, led in part by international academic workers, has led to improvements. But more needs to be done.”
- The UAW supports comprehensive immigration reform, which would “Increase the flexibility and length of work opportunities for international academic workers employed by U.S. universities and for their families. Visa processing should be streamlined, and the transition to permanent residency and citizenship should be expedited. This will enhance the intellectual and cultural environment at our universities, while helping to ensure that international academic workers have equitable compensation and equal workplace rights.”
- The resolutions included this call to action: “Tell Congress to provide increased protections for the rights of international academic workers, including their civil rights and liberties. Congress should oppose any measures that would discriminate against or impose burdens on them. International academic workers should receive adequate, equal compensation and have the opportunity to become permanent residents and citizens.”
- No limits on employment-based green cards for foreign students who graduate from American universities with advanced degrees in scientific and technical fields, along with other measures to liberalize visas for foreign students. These changes will benefit many UAW members employed as teaching and research assistants at colleges and universities.
The Executive Vice President for Research says the union might negotiate a limit on how many hours I can spend in the lab. Has that happened at other universities?
No. It is important to remember that postdoctoral researchers will determine our bargaining priorities democratically here at Columbia, and we will vote to ratify any new contract provisions as well before they go into effect. We care deeply about our research, but also want to have some work-life balance in our lives. At the University of California, as an example, postdocs negotiated language accommodating that balance, acknowledging the professional nature of being a full-time postdoc, where the work focuses on accomplishing the research goals, while discouraging arbitrary assignment of an unreasonable number of hours unconnected to the research goals. We are confident that if Columbia bargains in good faith, we can achieve similar balance.
The workweek “is normally at least 40 hours, with the emphasis placed on meeting the responsibilities assigned to the position, on making progress toward their professional goals, and on demonstrating their research and creative capabilities, rather than on working a specified number of hours. Required work schedules must be reasonable, and related to the research needs. In recognition of the professional exempt status of Postdoctoral Scholars, assigned work schedules provide the flexibility to meet research goals and to occasionally allow a schedule of less than 40 hours in a week.”Back to Index