Columbia University Postdocs form union with UAW, petition NLRB for election; first private university postdoc effort expands growing academic union movement
NEW YORK CITY — A majority of the 2,000 postdoctoral researchers at Columbia University have formed a union and today filed a petition initiating the certification process with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
“After hundreds of conversations, meetings and town halls across the university over the last year, we are excited to take this important step toward establishing a union to improve the postdoc experience at Columbia,” said Alvaro Cuesta-Dominguez, a postdoc in Physiology and Cellular Biophysics. “We hope to vote on unionization soon, so we can join thousands of our colleagues at public universities like the University of California who have negotiated improvements to pay, benefits and workplace rights as part of the UAW.”
If a majority vote yes for Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW as their union in a subsequent NLRB election, organizers believe CPW-UAW would become the first certified union of postdocs at a private university in the United States.
“We have watched disappointingly as Columbia has refused to bargain with our graduate student worker colleagues over the last year,” said Medini Annavajhala, a postdoc in Infectious Diseases. “But academic workers are hungry for a more just workplace, especially given the prevalence of sexual harassment and precarious pay and benefits, and so it is no surprise that despite Columbia’s efforts to discourage unionization, a majority of postdocs have now signed up to have a union.”
Postdocs are researchers who have earned a PhD and work under the supervision of a faculty member on a variety of research projects 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 roughly one billion dollars in research grants and contracts to Columbia each year, making the university a major hub of academic innovation and an important engine of stimulus to the local economy.
“This has been an exciting week for working people and the UAW,” said Gary Jones, UAW President. “In the same week that Missouri workers – including thousands of UAW members – voted overwhelmingly to reject right-to-work, 2,000 postdocs at Columbia University have now taken a major step toward joining the UAW.”
“We welcome these workers into the UAW community,” said Beverley Brakeman, Director of UAW Region 9A, which includes 37,000 members in New York City, New England and Puerto Rico. “We sincerely hope Columbia embraces this opportunity to show its respect for the rights of workers to choose collective bargaining without unnecessary delays and in a free and fair manner.”
Academic workers across the Northeast have formed unions with the UAW in record numbers in recent years. More than 15,000 graduate student workers, contingent faculty and postdocs have chosen UAW representation just since the end of 2013. Most recently, 5,000 graduate workers at Harvard voted for the UAW in an April NLRB election and in July, the state labor board certified that a majority of the 150 postdocs at the University of Connecticut chose to unionize with the UAW.
The UAW now represents roughly 75,000 academic workers across the U.S., including postdocs at the University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Washington, University of Massachusetts and University of Connecticut. The UAW also represents hundreds of support staff at Columbia and more than 3,000 graduate student workers, who voted by an overwhelming 72 percent in favor of unionization in 2016, but the administration has refused to bargain with the graduate worker union based on the claim that “student employees” do not have union rights.