Historic Vote Marks First Union of Postdocs at a Private University
Adds to Huge Wave of Academic Workers Choosing UAW
Columbia University postdoctoral researchers announced Thursday that they’ve voted overwhelmingly to choose Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW (CPW-UAW) as their union.
In a National Labor Relations Board election held Oct. 2 and 3, the vote to unionize with the UAW passed by a significant margin of 68%. The 2,000 postdocs and associate research scientists now look to begin bargaining for what would be the first union contract covering postdocs at a private university.
Postdocs and associate research scientists are researchers who have earned a Ph.D. and typically work under the supervision of a faculty member on a variety of research projects, such as on major diseases like AIDS and Alzheimer’s, climate change, new technologies and other critical areas. As the core of the research workforce on campus, their work helps bring an estimated $1 billion in research grants and contracts to Columbia annually, helping to heighten the university’s reputation as a world-class research institution and to boost the local economy.
Including today’s vote, more than 17,000 graduate student workers, contingent faculty and postdocs across the Northeastern United States have chosen UAW representation in the last five years alone, a growth trend that is fueling progress on key worker issues across multiple campuses.
“With this historic vote, we’re joining the rising wave of tens of thousands of postdocs and other academic workers forming unions across the country,” said Medini Annavajhala, a researcher in the Department of Medicine. “It was disappointing to see the Columbia administration put so much time, energy, and resources into trying to prevent us from voting at all, and when that failed, trying to convince us to vote no. This result sends a clear message that they need to come to the table swiftly.”
After the vote count, CPW-UAW activists urged Columbia to move swiftly toward bargaining, following what was at times a very intense university effort to convince workers to vote against unionization.
Columbia postdocs say they took the historic step of forming a union in order to negotiate more predictable and competitive salaries that match New York City’s high cost of living, to ensure stronger workplace sexual harassment protections, and to get help and protection on immigration and visa issues facing international postdocs. They also say it’s more important than ever to join together as researchers to push back on the Trump administration’s unprecedented attacks on science, sexual harassment protections, immigrants, and the freedom of international scholars.
“By joining with 75,000 of our colleagues in the UAW, we have a huge opportunity to improve our workplace and to expand our voice beyond Columbia on issues that matter to us as researchers, such as federal science funding and immigration reform,” said Alvaro Cuesta-Dominguez, a researcher in Physiology and Cell Biophysics.
UAW President Gary Jones welcomed the 2,000 postdocs into the UAW community. “These workers have made a clear choice to be members of our union and engage in collective bargaining,” said Gary Jones, President of the UAW. “Columbia should honor their decision by moving swiftly toward bargaining a fair first contract.”
The UAW represents more than 3,000 Columbia graduate student workers who voted to organize in 2016. However, Columbia has refused to sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate with the graduate students. Workers and UAW leaders say they feel the postdocs’ vote sends another clear message to the administration to respect workers’ rights.
“We have a strong track record of negotiating fair agreements with universities across the Northeast, and look forward to starting a new, constructive relationship with Columbia now that this group of workers has voted for UAW representation,” said Beverley Brakeman, director of UAW Regional 9A, which includes New York City, New England and Puerto Rico
The UAW represents more than 75,000 higher education workers nationally, including the University of California’s 10 campuses, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Washington.
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