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Unionization and the Postdoc

The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) is providing this page as a resource for the postdoctoral community. The NPA maintains a neutral position on unionization:

The NPA is a professional association whose mission is to advance the U.S. research enterprise by enhancing the quality of the postdoctoral experience. The NPA is a 501(c)(3) charitable tax-exempt organization, supported primarily through grants and other charitable contributions. The educational and scientific purposes of the NPA, under 501(c)(3) rules, preclude the NPA from supporting or opposing the unionization of postdocs, as well as from providing representation for postdoctoral employees wishing to engage in collective bargaining activities with their employers.

Approved by the NPA Board of Directors, November 21, 2010.

We are frequently asked whether the NPA is a union. The NPA is not a union. The NPA does not engage in collective bargaining or conflict resolution between employers and employees. The NPA works on the national level to secure positive change for postdoctoral scholars. Follow this link to read about some of our recent accomplishments on behalf of postdocs.

Some Facts About Unionization

(Created March 10, 2009)

  • Depending on the contract between a union and an organization, employees may be restricted in talking directly to the administration or supervisors regarding their compensation, benefits, or grievances. Certainly, they cannot be represented by any other organization but the union in regard to their compensation and benefits.
  • In many states, when unionization occurs at an organization, all employees must pay a fee to the union, regardless of whether they choose to become Full dues-paying Members of the organization. The requirement for paying of fees is usually controlled by State law.
  • Dues are calculated in various ways. For example, the United Auto Workers (UAW) Union has set the following formula for calculating dues: “Both hourly and salaried members pay 1.15% of their monthly income-equivalent to two hours pay.” (
  • Unions engage principally in collective bargaining and negotiated grievance procedures.
  • Unions do not usually provide career development services or networking opportunities across a spectrum of organizations.
  • If a union votes to strike, members are expected not to work.
    • A significant portion of membership dues go to a union’s strike fund; for example, the UAW allocates 30% of the dues to the strike fund. (
  • Unions are 501(c)5, tax-exempt organizations (
  • Resources regarding this topic can be found at:

News Regarding Unionization

University of Massachusetts postdocs ratify contract

April 10, 2012

In March, unionized postdocs at the University of Massachusetts ratified their first contract. Read more here.

Teaching Assistants union ends role as collective bargaining agent

August 22, 2011

The Teaching Assistants' Association at the University of Wisconsin at Madison has decided not to continue to act as a collective bargaining agent. Read more...


University of California postdoctoral scholars vote to ratify their first union contract

August 12, 2011

The University of California and the United Auto Workers (UAW) today (August 12, 2010) jointly announced that UC postdoctoral scholars voted to ratify their first union contract. The Union announced that postdocs approved the contract by an overwhelming vote of 2588 to 121, or 96 percent in favor, in balloting that concluded Aug. 11.

University of California and PRO/UAW reach tentative agreement

August 3, 2010

The Postdoctoral Researchers Organize / International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (PRO/UAW) and the University of California have reached a tentative agreement. The next step is for union members to vote to ratify the agreement. Read more...

University of Massachusetts Postdoctoral Scholars Seek Unionization

February 5, 2010

Postdoctoral fellows at the University of Massachusetts are seeking unionization, according to a press release issued by the UMass PRO/UAW, a union effort organized by the United Auto Workers of America. Of the 300 postdoctoral scholars, a majority (defined as 50% plus one) has voted to unionize. Read more about it here. Read the blog in Science Careers here.


UC Postdocs Voice Opposition to Unionization

Postdoctoral fellows in the University of California system have established a website to voice their opposition to the PRO/UAW. The "About" page states: "The process that took place in 2008 was neither transparent nor open." The process referred to is the voting that took place to establish the union. Read more...


Rutgers Postdoctoral Fellows Vote to Unionize

July 21, 2009

Postdoctoral fellows at Rutgers University have voted to unionize and join the American Federation of University Teachers/American Association of University Professors joint union, and the State of New Jersey has certified their votes. Read more...

UC proposed salary cuts added new wrinkle to negotiations

July 15, 2009 (updated July 16, 2009 & August 6, 2009)

University of California (UC) President Mark Yudof announced three proposals for salary cuts in a letter sent to employees on June 17. On July 15, after receiving input from literally thousands of persons, Yudof presented a proposal to the Board of Regents. On July 16, the Board approved his proposal, which will take effect September 1, 2009.

The UC faculty, the UC Davis postdoctoral scholars association (on behalf of the entire UC Council of Postdoctoral Scholars),and the Postdoctoral Researchers Organize / International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (PRO/UAW) responded with letters. Learn more by following the links below (after NPA's summary of the situation and how it affects UC postdocs).

How will the UC proposal affect UC postdocs?


Based on the information found on UC's website, the proposal submitted to the Board of Regents by Yudof exempts postdoctoral scholars "except where covered by collective bargaining agreements," as well as those here on H visas, from salary cuts. The Q&A UC Web page states:


Exempted employees include:


Employees of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory;

Academic and staff employees whose pay is funded entirely by research contracts or grants;

Student Employees, including postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate employees, health sciences trainees and postdoctoral fellows, except where covered by collective bargaining agreements;

Employees working reduced hours under the START program if their voluntary reduction is already equal to or exceeds the percent reduction for their respective pay band;

Foreign national employees working pursuant to H visas. (The H visa is job and site specific; once approved, the employee is eligible to work at the job for which that visa was approved and only that job.);

Employees whose participation is precluded by law. (Employees with employment contracts that cannot be changed unilaterally by the University will be asked for a voluntary salary reduction appropriate for their pay band.)


This information corresponds with a statement by PRO/UAW that President Yudof has told them that postdoctoral scholars would be exempt from the salary cuts. It remains to be seen what will actually happen... especially how collective bargaining will affect the outcome, as most UC postdocs are now covered by collective bargaining.


Postdocs paid with "stipends," such as NRSA fellows, should not be affected by the salary cuts regardless of the outcome.

Read more about UC's proposed salary cuts on its website.

Read the letter sent by the UC-Davis PDA, on behalf of the entire UC Council of Postdoctoral Scholars: UC Davis PDA Letter.

Read an article from Science: July 3, 2009

PRO/UAW members give union authorization to strike

April 19, 2009

Collective bargaining continues between the Postdoctoral Researchers Organize / International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (PRO/UAW) and the University of California (UC).Negotiations began in February, and bargaining sessions are currently scheduled through June 26 and may continue beyond that date.


On March 2, PRO/UAW asked its members to authorize the UAW to declare a strike when the UAW believes it is necessary. Voting on this issue was completed on UC campuses by March 20. According to PRO/UAW’s website (, “92% of Postdocs voting voted to authorize the bargaining team to call a strike in the event it deems it necessary.”

The UC website ( provided clarification on the strike-authorization vote and noted that “Postdoctoral Scholars may not be asked to assess the facts at the time the UAW decides to call a strike.”

UAW Asks UC Postdocs to Vote for Authorization to Strike

March 6, 2009

Here is the full PRO/UAW Strike Authorization Vote Notice:
Negotiations with the University of California for our first contract began on February 6, 2009. You are represented in these negotiations by your bargaining team which was elected last Fall. We will continue to keep you updated on progress in negotiations.

We are hopeful that with your active support we will be able to obtain a successful agreement. However, pursuant to the UAW Constitution, there must be a vote by the membership to give the bargaining team authority to call a strike in the event it deems it necessary and the circumstances warrant it, such as unfair labor practices by the University or the end of the impasse process. We will be holding such a vote in the upcoming weeks on your campus. It is critical that we have a strong turnout and yes vote so that the bargaining team has this authority from a strong and active mandate.

All postdocs who have signed current PRO/UAW authorization cards at the time of the election are eligible to vote at their campus. Postdocs may sign up at the polling place, and may also sign up at any time prior to the election. The election will be by secret ballot. Voting must be in person. There will be no absentee ballots.

The vote will take place on all campuses. Locations and times for voting on your campus are as follows:

DATE: Wednesday, March 18th, 2009
TIME AND LOCATION: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, at the corner of Stockton and 2nd Ave

DATE: Thursday, March 19th, 2009
TIME AND LOCATION: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, on the Davis campus, on the east side of the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility, next to Parking Lot 56.

DATE: Friday, March 20th, 2009
TIME AND LOCATION: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, on the Davis campus, on the north side of the Silo, next to Hutchison Drive.


Update: Unionization at UC

February 28, 2009

By Cathee Johnson Phillips

Please note: The NPA maintains a neutral stance regarding unionization. The opinions reflected in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NPA Board of Directors, Staff, Committees of the Membership, or the majority of its members.

Postdoctoral Researchers Organize / International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (PRO/UAW) and the University of California (UC) began collective bargaining on Feb. 5, 2009.Negotiations are expected to take several months, said Dr. Matthew “Oki” O’Connor.

O’Connor, a postdoctoral researcher in bioengineering at UC-Berkeley and NPA member, was elected to represent the postdoctoral scholars (postdocs) at that campus. He is one of six postdocs listed as members of the bargaining team on PRO/UAW’s website. In November, the postdocs at each of UC’s ten campuses elected a representative from their campus to serve on the team. No one from UC-Merced would run for election, but O’Connor said that he personally visited the Merced campus and interviewed the postdocs there, in order to be sure that their interests would be represented.

PRO/UAW was recognized by UC as the exclusive bargaining representative of UC postdoctoral scholars on Nov. 3, 2008, after the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) verified that a majority of all of UC’s postdoctoral scholars signed cards choosing PRO/UAW as their union. The UC postdoctoral scholars are classified in three ways, as postdoctoral scholar fellows, postdoctoral scholar employees, and postdoctoral scholar paid directs. As of June 2008, there were nearly 5,800 postdoctoral scholars in the UC system.

In December, both the university and the union team began working on their “sunshine” (public disclosure) proposals in preparation for the contract negotiations. The union team conducted a bargaining survey of postdoctoral scholars in order to collect information for drafting their proposal, and the Ratification of Initial Bargaining Proposals Election was held during the week of Dec. 15. Only those postdocs who held current signed cards of authorization for the union were allowed to participate in the survey or to vote, but they could sign cards at any time.

On January 12, UC and PRO/UAW exchanged initial proposals. The university and union presented these proposals at public meetings on January 20 and February 3. The public will not hear anything more until the collective bargaining is completed; all interim negotiations will be kept confidential.The proposals are available on both the university’s and union’s websites.

Signing the Card

O’Connor said, “Signing a card allows you to participate in union surveys and to vote and receive e-mails, but it is not a membership card. After we have a contract, everyone will have to sign up to become a member. Furthermore, the card does not lock you into or get you out of paying dues.”

According to O’Connor, the authorization card collects name, department, campus, phone, e-mail, building, room number, and job title and states, “I authorize Postdoctoral Researchers Organize (PRO/UAW), International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America to represent me in collective bargaining.I understand that no one will pay any dues or fees until a contract has been democratically approved by Postdocs.”

Dr. Joanna Friesner, postdoctoral scholar at UC-Davis and an Affiliate Member of the NPA, signed a card this past summer after talking with a postdoc campus organizer. She expressed concern over the lack of representation for those who do not sign a card: “Broader input by postdocs is a little bit of a problem. On one hand, the union has been surveying and getting inputs from postdocs who signed the card. On the other hand, if you do not sign the card, there is no way of having direct input.”

In effect, UC postdoctoral scholars who do not sign cards have no representations, either with the union or the administration. Friesner said that postdocs can no longer legally talk directly to the administration, because, regardless of whether a scholar has signed a card, the union now represents her or him.

Friesner has had other concerns regarding the authorization cards, particularly the process involved in getting signatures. “The union organizers would not leave a copy of the paper we signed with us,” she said. “More recently, a foreign postdoc who was approached rather aggressively asked me to help her figure it out, to translate the card.” Because the majority of UC postdoctoral scholars are international scholars for whom English is a second language, Friesner has wondered how many of them really understand what they are signing.

Another concern of Friesner is that the union would not agree to hold town hall meetings.She said, “The process in regard to the way the UAW pursued unionization of the UC postdocs has had a negative effect. Their tactics weren’t ideal. For a long time, I tried to talk the campus postdoc representative to the union into having a large meeting in which they would explain the benefits of unionization. But they said no to town hall meetings and that they would only do one-on-one meetings.

“The process made people a little nervous and confused. Of the 25 or so postdocs I’ve talked to, the majority were uncomfortable with the union strategy, even though many supported what the union was trying to do.”

Paying Dues or Fees

Now that PRO/UAW has been certified as the union representing all of the UC postdoctoral scholars, all of the eligible scholars must be represented by the union. Once collective bargaining has been completed and the initial contract has been approved by the postdocs, they will be required to pay either union dues or fees. Union members will pay monthly dues of 1.15% of their gross income. Non-member postdocs will pay monthly fees that will be slightly less than dues and determined by PRO immediately following the approval of the contract.

Outcomes of Unionization

Although it is far too early to establish the effect of unionization on UC postdoctoral scholars, Friesner was willing to speculate on the advantages and disadvantages. She said, “Obvious advantages will be if we have increased wages and better benefits. At least at this campus, there is somewhat of a patchwork regarding rules and regulations for postdocs. By having a union, the rules will be made clear to everyone. There will be a document that says this is how postdocs should be paid, what benefits they should have, etc.”

She continued: “The main disadvantage is that many of us could end up paying dues or fees that exceed the benefits we gain. For example, typically, they talk about making an increase to lowest salary. The minimum salary at UC-Davis just got raised to $35,500. The union might want to make it $38,000. Well if you are already making $39,000, that doesn’t help you. So, unless they negotiate across the board increases, only those at the bottom will benefit.”

She is also concerned about the long-term effect of wage increases. She said, “If we end up with a contract that dramatically increases the cost of supporting postdocs, the number of postdocs may be reduced. Faculty members may choose not to hire as many, or sufficient federal funding may not be available.”

O’Connor, who has been an enthusiastic advocate of unions since before he came to UC-Berkeley, is optimistic regarding the outcomes of unionization. He said, “The union will give us a voice about our wages and working conditions. It will give us a seat at the bargaining table.

“There has been a very steep learning curve for us postdocs on the bargaining team, but we’ve been preparing since November and working very hard.”

What is the role of the NPA in the issue of unionization?

Avi Spier, one of the founders of the NPA, went on the record with his opinion: “The NPA’s position is that it works collaboratively with all stakeholders involved in the postdoctoral system that are willing to work with it, to improve the circumstances for this vital group of the nation’s engine of scientific innovation.

“The organization, aims, and methods of the NPA and postdoc unions are different and will continue to be so. The NPA remains the only national organization for postdocs and… the NPA needs to apply more of its influence to exploring system-wide improvements that can only be brought about via dialog at the national level.”

In November 2008, the NPA Board of Directors revisited NPA’s official stance on unionization and confirmed that NPA should remain neutral regarding unionization. The Board, however, also felt that the NPA should play a more active role in educating postdoctoral scholars on the facts surrounding unionization.

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