In a historic outcome, early-career researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, have voted by nearly 98% to form a union, NIH Fellows United-UAW. 1,601 workers voted in favor of unionizing, with only thirty-six voting against.
This is the first union within the U.S. federal government for research fellows, which includes postbaccalaureate, predoctoral, and postdoctoral researchers.
“We won our union!” NIH Fellows United-UAW announced on the social media platform X after the voting process was completed. “We are the largest union of federal employees to form in more than a decade, and the first union of Fellows ever at a federal research facility. We’ve made history together.”
In June of this year, workers filed with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to form their union. In July, the NIH questioned the legal standing of fellows unionizing, submitting paperwork to the FLRA stating many of the potential union members weren’t employees and thus, didn’t have the right to form a union. The following month, NIH dropped opposition, paving the way for the vote.
Improved pay and working conditions and enhanced protections against harassment and excessive workloads are the primary issues workers would like to see addressed in a first contract between their union and the NIH.
“I’d like to welcome the NIH unit to the UAW,” Region 8 Director Tim Smith said. “I am looking forward to meeting and shaking the hands of each and every one of these new members. We will stand hand-in-hand to achieve a contract that helps them build a better life. They may be the first union in Region 8 for government researchers, but working together, it won’t be the last.”