Postdoctoral researcher unionization

Postdoctoral researcher unionization is the formation of labor unions by postdoctoral researchers (postdocs). It has been driven by increasing competition for scarce tenure-track faculty positions, leading to more people resident in postdoctoral positions for a longer time. Unions often challenge the low pay, minimal benefits, and lack of job security that are typical of postdoctoral positions.[1] Unionizing is however sometimes seen as creating a culture clash of tension between postdocs and their academic advisors, and some question the suitability of a union for a temporary position. Some universities seek to avoid pushes for unionization by proactively addressing the concerns of postdoctoral researchers.[2]

Postdoctoral unions exist only at a few universities. They have often been formed with the help of other unions at the same institution; for example, before the University of Massachusetts Amherst union was formed, postdoctoral researchers were the only class of employees not already part of a union.[2] The National Postdoctoral Association, which is a professional association rather than a labor union, is officially neutral on the issue of postdoctoral unionization.[3]


The first stand-alone postdoctoral researcher union was UAW Local 5810 at the University of California system.[1] As of 2010 it represented about 6,400 postdoctoral researchers,[2] which was estimated to be about 10% of the United States total,[4] and is the largest postdoctoral researcher union in North America.[5] Efforts to form this union had begun in the early 2000s, and it was officially formed in 2008.[6] Its first contract was ratified in August 2010, leading to the institution of a minimum salary with annual increases, availability of insurance benefits, guaranteed vacation time, paid maternity leave, and just cause protections for discipline or dismissal.[1][7]

Postdocs at Rutgers University unionized in July 2009.[2] In 2010, a postdoctoral union at the University of Massachusetts Amherst was formed, and in 2012 it ratified a contract providing for salary and benefits, the first of its kind in the University of Massachusetts system.[6] Postdoctoral unions also exist at the University of Connecticut Health Center and the University of Alaska in the United States, and at McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario in Canada.[5]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Cain, Benjamin; Budke, Jessica M.; Wood, Kelsey J.; Sweeney, Neal T.; Schwessinger, Benjamin (2014-11-21). "How postdocs benefit from building a union". eLife. 3: e05614. doi:10.7554/eLife.05614. ISSN 2050-084X. PMC 4238050Freely accessible. PMID 25415240.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Gewin, Virginia (2010-10-06). "The spread of postdoc unions". Nature. 467 (7316): 739–741. doi:10.1038/nj7316-739a.
  3. "Unionization". National Postdoctoral Association. Retrieved 2016-05-27.
  4. Benderly, Beryl Lieff (2010-09-03). "The New California Postdoc Contract". Science Careers. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
  5. 1 2 "FAQ". UAW Local 5810. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
  6. 1 2 Carmichael, Mary (2012-03-23). "UMass Amherst postdoctoral union ratifies contract, setting precedent for other campuses – The Boston Globe". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
  7. "UC postdocs ratify contract". UC Health. 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
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