Be Informed

Below, please find excerpts from Princeton’s FAQ with additional information and context provided by Princeton Postdocs. Click here to find our full response to Princeton’s FAQ. Please reach out with any questions about forming a union.

Princeton Administration’s FAQ

What They Leave Out

What is the University’s position regarding unionization of postdoctoral researchers and scholars?

By design, union representation would have a real effect on the nature of your relationship with the University. We believe it is essential for you to be fully informed before deciding whether or not unionization is right for you. In the sections below, we have provided background information about unions as well as some context regarding the potential impact of unionization.

We hope every postdoc colleague makes an informed decision regarding Princeton postdocs’ campaign to form a union. We agree with Princeton management on the spirit of transparency and the importance of facts, but it is disappointing to see them disseminate “Frequently Asked Questions” that seem aimed at convincing postdocs to vote against collective bargaining. Management’s FAQ leaves out a basic factual description of our choices regarding unionization. We can choose to form a union, which would mean for the first time ever the Princeton administration would be legally obligated to bargain with elected postdoc representatives over pay, benefits and workplace rights, as 100,000 other UAW academic workers across the United States do with their institutions. Or we can retain the status quo where management decides by itself if, when, and how to consider input from postdocs and makes all final decisions on our workplace rights.

What is a union contract/collective bargaining agreement?

A union contract or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is a legally binding contract between the employees within the bargaining unit and the employer, arrived at through negotiations between the employer and the union, which sets forth the terms and conditions of employment (e.g., wages, working hours and conditions, holidays, vacations, certain [but not all] benefits, etc.) and procedures for dispute resolution.

Collective bargaining is a democratic process in which we elect a committee of our peers, negotiate in good faith with Princeton management, and eventually vote on whether or not to ratify any agreement before it goes into effect.

What is an authorization card? How are authorization cards used in the unionization process?

An authorization card is a signed document giving permission for a union to be the signer's exclusive representative for the purposes of negotiating the terms and conditions of that signer's employment. Unions collect authorization cards in an attempt to show that there is a substantial interest in unionizing and a desire to have the union serve as the exclusive bargaining agent. Thirty percent of the potential members of a bargaining unit need to sign cards for an election to occur.

Authorization cards generally must have a stated purpose of designating the union as the employee’s exclusive bargaining representative. Authorization cards are legal documents. They are the equivalent of giving a union power of attorney over the terms and conditions of your employment. Before signing any union-related document, be sure the document expresses a clear purpose and you understand what you are signing and its implications.

Signing authorization cards is the first phase in our process of forming a union. Signing an authorization card means expressing your support for forming a union of postdocs at Princeton – and once a large enough number of other postdocs sign to express their support as well, we can ask Princeton to voluntarily recognize our Union, or we can petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a union election where all postdocs will vote on whether or not to form a union. No postdoc will pay dues until after Princeton postdocs have ratified our first contract.

Once an individual has signed a card, can that individual take it back?

Under federal law, a union has no legal obligation to return an authorization card once it has been signed and submitted. Unless and until an election is held, an individual should assume that a signed authorization card is binding.

However, you can always ask the union directly if you can have your card back. In the event of an election, whether or not you signed a card creates no obligation on how you vote.

If you have any questions or thoughts about having signed an authorization card, reach out to a colleague involved in the union in your department, or email info@princetonpostdocunion.org. Another postdoc involved in the effort will gladly meet with you to discuss any concerns you might have. The choice of whether or not to sign a union authorization card is up to each individual postdoc.

What does it mean to be represented by a union?

A union that has been certified to represent a bargaining unit of employees serves as the exclusive representative of all employees in the bargaining unit with respect to the terms and conditions of their employment. The union typically has the authority and exclusive right to negotiate with the employer about these subjects, and no individual employee is permitted to engage in separate negotiations over their individual employment terms. For example, if a labor contract set parameters on the work hours of postdoctoral researchers and scholars, individual researchers would not be able to make personal arrangements with their Principal Investigator (PI), unless the contract provided for exceptions.

Princeton management currently holds exclusive, unilateral control over our pay, benefits and workplace rights. Like most employers, they would probably prefer to retain that power.

Union representation, on the other hand, is a process, protected by US law, that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. The UAW currently represents 100,000 academic workers in collective bargaining at institutions across the US. Through collective bargaining, postdocs and other academic workers in the UAW have successfully negotiated improved wages and benefits, stronger protections against discrimination and harassment, expanded family-friendly benefits like paid leave and childcare subsidies or funds, retirement, and other important provisions. With collective bargaining, the Princeton administration would be legally obligated to negotiate salary rates with our elected bargaining team and all postdocs would vote democratically on the results of those negotiations.

Collective bargaining also allows for flexibility in areas we decide are appropriate. As an example, all UAW postdoc contracts preserve the right of individual PIs and postdocs to work out salary rates higher than the minimums negotiated in collective bargaining. You can see examples from Columbia University (Article 2), University of Washington (Article 32), and University of California (Article 4).

Could postdoctoral researchers or scholars “opt out” of the union by not voting?

No. The results of an election would bind everyone in the bargaining unit, including those who do not vote.

Just like a US presidential election, you cannot opt out by not voting. PUPS-UAW encourages all postdocs to vote when the time comes!

Are there unions at Princeton?

Yes. At Princeton, six staff unions represent approximately 20% of our workforce, including public safety and security officers, cogeneration plant employees, library assistants, and hourly service employees in dining services and building services, among others.

We’re glad that Princeton management has engaged in collective bargaining with other workers on campus, and we hope they would seek to create a positive and productive relationship with a postdoc union as well!

Are employees required to meet with a union organizer or admit a union organizer into their homes or offices?

No.

The “union organizers” being referred to here are Princeton University postdocs themselves. This unionization process has been driven entirely by postdocs talking to other postdocs as coworkers. While we have support from knowledgeable and experienced UAW staff, Princeton postdocs are organizing our own union, one conversation with our colleagues at a time.