Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How to Start a Postdoc Union

It is not news that Postdocs are routinely underpaid and overworked. They often have poor benefits, such as no paid maternity leave and few (if any) sick days. It is also not news that Postdocs are doing more postdocs than ever before. A stagnated job market has led to a startling increase so called “Permadocs”. It is critical to improve the working conditions of postdocs. How to effect positive change can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. In this article I will cover how to start your own postdoc union.

Step 1: Network. 

First you need people before you do anything. And not just anyone…
you need a group of active, involved Postdocs. So step one is to get the Postdocs on your campus out of their labs and networked. Now what gets them together and talking will depend on your campus.
  • You could organize a series of lunch talks about alternative careers or soft skills.
  • You could start a writing group.
  • You could start a happy hour.
Whatever it takes. You just need to start networking with your fellow Postdocs. You need to find time and space to talk to your fellow Postdocs, gauge interest, and enlist help. This step - networking - can be very intimidating. It is out of many scientists' comfort zones. But it needs to be done. A successful union needs extensive grassroot support. So be patient, be persistent and start networking!

Step 2: Research Local Unions. 

As a researcher you should be good at this step. Now that you have collected a group of interested Postdocs it is time to research your environment. It will be most efficient (easiest) if you join a union that is already active on your campus. So your job is to research what unions are already involved with your institution. So start asking. Ask the teaching assistances. Do they have a union? Ask the professors. Ask the administrators. Research to find the most relevant union in your area.

Step 3: Contact Your Union of Choice. 

What exactly happens from here will depend on the union you are joining and what you are fighting for. But now you will have help/guidance from your union of choice on how to proceed.

Step 4: Pay it forward. 

When joining a union they will provide you with a lot of help and professional expertise, which costs money. Once you are fully functioning with your own member base be prepared to pay it forward by helping others who want to start their own unions. Be generous with your time and resources.

Step 5: Have Patience.

Starting a postdoc union and getting a contract takes time. No way around it, but it is time well spent. It was in 2005, that a group of UC Postdoctoral researchers first approached UAW and asked for help forming a union. It was not until August 19, 2008, that the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) certified that a majority of UC postdocs had chosen PRO/UAW as their union. Then first contract negotiations began in February of 2009. And the first successful contract was not ratified until 2011. 

So have patience and persevere my friend! You are part of a Postdoc Revolution. And Revolutions take time.

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