Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers below to frequently asked questions.

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What is Princeton University Postdocs and Scholars—UAW?

We are postdoctoral researchers forming a union in order to improve our research and working conditions at Princeton University. Our work as postdocs and scholars not only drives the research mission at Princeton, but also produces diverse scientific knowledge that can benefit the whole world. While we work across many subfields, our dedication to research unites us all.

By forming a postdoctoral researcher union, we can build a stronger, democratic voice for researchers at Princeton University, with more power to negotiate for improvements and to secure our rights and working conditions into a legally-binding contract.

Forming a union with the United Auto Workers (UAW) in particular means joining tens of thousands of researchers and other higher education employees who are already part of the UAW, including postdoctoral researchers at Columbia University, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts, University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Washington, and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. By working together with these and other academic unions across the country, we can also build political power beyond Princeton to impact funding, visa, and other policies at the national, state, and local levels that shape our experience in academia as scientists and scholars.

Why are postdoctoral researchers forming a union at Princeton?

Forming a union with collective bargaining rights gives us the power to negotiate on equal footing with the Princeton administration and secure our terms and conditions of employment in a legally-binding contract. Forming a union and joining with tens of thousands of other UAW academic workers will also help us have a stronger voice on key policy decisions made outside the University that affect us as researchers, such as federal funding for scientific research and federal rules affecting visa and immigrant issues.  

By joining with unionized academic workers nationwide, we hope to make changes that will create more positive work environments for future postdoctoral researchers and improve career pathways for future scientists in the US and beyond.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process, protected by US law, that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. 

Under collective bargaining, Princeton postdoctoral researchers and scholars would elect representatives to negotiate on equal footing with the Princeton administration and put the terms of our employment into a legally-binding contract. Through collective bargaining, postdocs and other academic workers across the country have successfully negotiated improved wages and benefits, stronger protections against discrimination and harassment, expanded family-friendly benefits like paid leave and childcare subsidies, and other important provisions.

Why and how did we choose the UAW?

Postdocs and associate researchers started discussing the idea of forming a union in early 2021, after Princeton gave graduate student workers a significant pay raise soon after the Columbia student workers successfully negotiated and ratified their first union contract. At the same time, postdocs who were active in the university-sponsored Postdoctoral Council (PDC) intensified efforts to work with Princeton to increase postdoc salaries, including circulating a public petition. Seeing that the university administration was unresponsive to these efforts, postdocs organized a town hall to talk about how to move forward, reaching out to unionized postdocs from UAW Local 4100 at Columbia University and UAW Local 5810 at the University of California System to discuss their experiences with collective bargaining. Following the town hall, a group of postdocs continued organizing and, in August 2021, we started working with the UAW to build a representative campaign to establish our own union at Princeton.

The UAW represents more than 100,000 academic workers across the United States, including more postdocs and graduate student employees than any other union. In the last eight years alone over 40,000 academic workers around the country have chosen to become part of the UAW, including nearly 15,000 of them from the east coast area.

Read more here about UAW success helping academic workers negotiate concrete improvements to wages, benefits and workplace rights.

The UAW has particular experience with helping to negotiate and enforce strong postdoc contracts. For example, postdocs and associate researchers at Columbia University in NYC voted by 68% to form their union with the UAW and ratified their first contract by 99% with a majority participating. UConn postdocs overwhelmingly approved their first contract in 2020.  Postdocs at the University of Washington voted by an overwhelming 89% percent to form their union with the UAW. The 7,000 postdocs at the ten University of California campuses approved their first UAW contract in 2010, and those at the University of Massachusetts approved their first contract in 2012. Most recently, postdocs at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai voted to form their union by 89.5% and are currently negotiating their first contract.

In the fall of 2022, 48,000 UC academic workers, including thousands of postdocs, academic researchers, student researchers, and other academic student employees, went on strike to win improvements on pay, benefits, and workplace rights, making historic gains. Postdocs and academic researchers voted to ratify their contract by 89.4% and 79.5%, respectively. In addition to drawing on the UAW’s wide experience bargaining contracts with academic administrations, we can exercise a stronger political voice through the UAW. With active members at more than 45 major campuses across the US, the UAW has become a strong advocate on policy issues that matter to us as academics, such as federal support for science funding and enhancing the rights of international research scientists.

What is the difference between the Postdoctoral Council (PDC) and a union?

Both a strong union and a postdoc organization can play a critical role in improving the lives of Princeton postdocs. The Princeton-sponsored PDC provides important opportunities for postdocs to participate in numerous social and career development opportunities, as well as advocacy efforts, but it is not a viable alternative to a union. While PDC can make recommendations to the institution on behalf of postdocs, it cannot engage in collective bargaining. Unions and associations like PDC often work together at academic institutions where both exist.

Once we form a union, how do we participate in the process?

Princeton University postdoctoral researchers make up our union. After PUPS-UAW has been certified or recognized by Princeton, we will start the process of negotiating a contract with the administration:

  • We elect a bargaining committee from among Princeton University researchers; we vote to ratify these goals.
  • Based on surveys we have filled out, the committee will develop initial bargaining goals;
  • The committee will meet with Princeton administration representatives to negotiate in pursuit of our bargaining goals;
  • When our committee has negotiated a tentative agreement with the institute they feel they can recommend, researchers will vote whether to ratify it as our first contract;
  • The bargaining committee will be aided throughout by experienced negotiators and other UAW representatives;
  • After the contract is ratified, the membership will elect representatives who help run the Local Union, ensure that Princeton University does not violate the terms of the contract, and represent members with grievances and other workplace issues.
Can the union guarantee any specific improvements?

Postdoctoral researchers make up our union and will democratically prioritize which improvements to pursue in contract negotiations. With a union, researchers will negotiate as equals with the administration for the changes we want to make.

A contract will legally secure those improvements against unilateral changes by the administration. Currently, the administration can change policies and benefits unilaterally, without any obligation to consult those affected.

With a union, we will vote on our contract. If we are unsatisfied with a contract, we can vote against it and go back to the negotiating table to work out a better agreement.

What improvements have postdoctoral researchers bargained for at other universities?

Postdoctoral researchers have negotiated improvements to their salaries, benefits, family-friendly policies, and workspace and materials; have established fair processes for addressing sexual and other forms of discrimination and harassment; and have negotiated greater job stability and protections for international researchers. 

Read more about what postdocs and researchers have won at other universities:

What are union dues and when would we start paying?

Membership dues are important because they provide the resources necessary for effective representation.  In the UAW, we do not pay dues until we have gone through the bargaining process and voted democratically to approve our first contract.   Dues are critical for providing us with independent resources that are not controlled by the University: we use them to ensure we have appropriate legal, bargaining, community and staff support to represent all postdoctoral researchers. UAW membership dues are currently 1.44% of gross monthly income and can only be increased by membership action (the membership in a few local unions, for example, have voted to increase dues above 1.44% to have more resources).

No one can be required to become a member of the Union after we have a contract. In most contracts, since everyone in the bargaining unit must receive all of the benefits of the contract, non-members are generally required to pay a comparable “fair share” fee, so the cost of representation is shared equally. The inclusion of a similar provision at Princeton would be something we decide as part of our bargaining agenda, subject to negotiation with the Princeton administration and contingent on ratification as part of our contract.

Most academic worker unions have such a provision in the contract because it means we have more power and more resources available to enforce our rights under our contract,  campaign for the best possible future contracts with the administration, and help other academic workers form their own unions. In the UAW, there is a one-time initiation fee, which ranges from $10 to $50 and is determined democratically in local union bylaws approved by members.

The value of increased wages and benefits in the first contract typically outweighs the cost of dues, often leading to overwhelming majority approval of those agreements. For example, the Columbia postdocs went from having the lowest minimum salaries for postdocs in NYC to the highest in the first year of their contract, an increase of between 14.5% to 20%, along with guaranteed annual increases and other improvements. The base wages for UC postdocs have gone up by more than 50% since they ratified their first contract in 2010.

Where would our union dues go?

It takes resources to have a strong union, from the earliest stages of forming a union for the first time, to bargaining and campaigning for the first contract, to enforcing rights under an existing contract, and advocating on policy issues that matter to membership.  Dues provide those resources.  See below for more information.  

Dues generally cover all of the day to day costs to have a strong union, including paying for legal representation, staffing, rent, equipment, and supplies.  

Most of the day-to-day work enforcing the contract and representing our membership is provided by the Local Union.  Under the UAW Constitution, the Local Union automatically keeps 27% of dues money to support its expenses: staffing for representation, rent, equipment, supplies, etc.  The rest of the dues is allocated to the International Union’s General Fund (26%), Strike and Defense Fund (44%), and Community Action Program (CAP) (3%).  Princeton postdocs would be supported by these funds as described below.  Depending on the overall financial health of the Strike and Defense Fund (if its net worth is $500M or greater), an additional allocation of dues called a “rebate” is given back to the Local and International Union.  So, in typical months, the portion of dues retained by the local union is roughly 37%.

For some great examples of UAW local union helping workers defend their rights, see this summary of successful grievance handling at the University of Washington, or these stories about unionized postdocs fighting pregnancy discrimination at the University of California, or how graduate assistants at UConn took on sexual harassment.

The portion of dues allocated to the International Union would support Princeton postdoctoral researchers in the following ways:

  • Technical experts to help negotiate on equal terms with Princeton admin, including:
    • Health insurance experts who can take on the University’s consultants in order to pursue the best benefits for the best price;
    • Researchers who can help analyze institute finances;
    • Legal advice where necessary; and
    • Experienced negotiators to help achieve our goals, both at the bargaining table and in terms of developing an overall campaign to win a strong contract.
  • Support for new organizing campaigns (for example, the resources supporting Princeton University Postdocs and Scholars-UAW come from existing UAW members’ dues).
  • Political action: 3 percent of dues go toward the UAW Community Action Program (CAP), which supports progressive community and political action, including legislative and other policy advocacy on issues that matter to UAW members. For example, the UAW advocates strongly for fair, comprehensive immigration reform and expanded federal support for research funding, among other topics. [NOTE: legally, dues money cannot be used for federal campaign contributions, such as the presidential race—that money comes from members’ voluntary contributions to the UAW Voluntary Community Action Program or V-CAP, which is separate from, and in addition to, dues.]
Would I be included in the postdoc union?

Princeton University Postdocs and Scholars-UAW (PUPS-UAW) seeks to represent anyone who holds a postdoctoral researcher position at Princeton University. The union includes all Princeton University employees in any such positions. If you are a researcher at Princeton and have questions about your eligibility or want to sign up, please contact

How can international postdocs benefit from joining the UAW?

With roughly 100,000 academic workers, the UAW has become a powerful organization advocating  to improve conditions for international scholars and students. For years the UAW has fought hard to ensure that the contributions of guest workers are elevated and that the terms and conditions of their employment are improved. Recently the UAW helped lead the fight against Executive Orders issued by former President Trump that targeted international scholars and students.

In October of 2020, UAW Academic Workers mobilized against a proposed rule by ICE to shorten visa stays for international scholars; thousands of public comments were submitted, including by the President of the UAW International. In July of 2020, thanks to direct action by UAW Academic Workers across the country, in addition to efforts by allies at universities and in government, ICE backed down from its directive to deport international students taking online classes due to COVID-19. In 2017, the UAW International filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case challenging the Trump administration’s travel ban. The UAW also helped lead the fight to enhance the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program as an important path for international student workers to work in the US after completion of their PhD.

UAW academic unions also provide more resources for researchers on visas at the local level. Columbia University postdocs have used their union to fight for international researchers who could not return to the US during the COVID-19 pandemic to be able to work remotely and, more recently, put pressure on the Columbia administration and engaged allies in Congress to support researchers stranded abroad.

What are the rights of international postdocs to join the union?

International postdocs and researchers have the same legal right to join a union as US citizens. International researchers have been instrumental in organizing and running the University of California postdocs union (UAW Local 5810) and the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers (CPW-UAW Local 4100) Unionization can result in protections that are especially valuable for international academic employees.

How long will it take to bargain our first contract with Princeton?

The length of time necessary to negotiate a strong first contract has depended on the strength of the campaign and the willingness of the employer to bargain in good faith.  Princeton could help ensure a timely process by agreeing on a fair and efficient timeframe with regularly scheduled bargaining sessions and a strong commitment to reaching a fair agreement. 

At other major research institutions where postdocs have formed unions, researchers have been able to negotiate significant improvements despite facing opposition from their employers. Postdocs at Columbia University, University of Connecticut, University of Washington, and University of California negotiated for 16 months, 13 months, 13 months, and 18 months respectively. But it is also possible to negotiate much more quickly.  For example, with a serious commitment to reach a fair agreement by the administration, 4,000 student employees at the University of Washington negotiated their first contract in just under two months.

I heard an administrator say if we unionize and negotiate pay increases, we might have fewer jobs overall. Is that true?

We have not seen this happen at other institutions. Because all union decisions will be made by postdocs, we will collectively decide what to ask for in bargaining at Princeton and, ultimately, vote whether to approve any agreement as a contract.

And as a union we will have greater access to Princeton University’s financial information that affects postdoctoral researchers, which will make it possible for us to be well-informed and conscientious as we engage in bargaining.  

Both the postdocs and the administration have to agree on a contract and we all share an interest in preserving the quality of research happening at Princeton. Collective bargaining simply means we can negotiate on equal footing in order to hold Princeton more accountable to do the best it can do.

Will forming a union cause Princeton to reduce benefits or lower pay?

Once a union is formed, Princeton cannot unilaterally alter any terms and conditions of employment—including pay and benefits. Instead, changes to pay and benefits and other terms and conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining, through which Princeton administrators must negotiate in good faith with postdoctoral researchers, and postdoctoral researchers will democratically approve a binding, enforceable contract containing those terms and conditions.

Does everyone in a union have to make the same amount?

No UAW union for academic workers has negotiated a contract that requires all covered employees to make the same amount. And because we as researchers will make our own decisions about our contract we would likely not negotiate for or vote to approve a contract that requires all postdocs to be paid the same. As an example, we could propose a wage structure like the one that postdocs at the University of California bargained that includes:

1) A minimum salary that exceeds the NIH base wage;

2) Guaranteed annual wage increases;

3) The right of PIs to pay above the scale; and

4) Strong enforcement provisions that enable us to grieve through the union if we don’t receive contractual pay increases.

Can departments and PIs voluntarily pay above negotiated pay rates?

Postdoctoral researchers will democratically decide how we want to negotiate pay, but no UAW academic worker contract stipulates that all workers must be paid the same. Instead, UAW academic contracts have established minimum rights on different aspects of researcher working conditions, while preserving the ability of PIs and researchers to negotiate above those minimums.  At both Columbia and the University of California, for example, postdoctoral researchers negotiated pay scales that guarantee minimum salaries but stipulate that the institution may pay more.

Where will the money come from for pay increases?

Currently, the Princeton administration determines postdoctoral researcher pay rates and benefits unilaterally, and those rates – as well as projected increases – can be factored into grant proposals to agencies like the NIH. With collective bargaining, we would negotiate as equals with Princeton over improvements to our pay rates, which would continue to be factored into grant proposals. Postdocs at Columbia University and the University of Washington, as well as at the University of California, have used this process to negotiate guaranteed annual increases to their pay rates through collective bargaining.

Will forming a union limit postdoctoral researchers’ direct relationship with supervisors?

As a union, researchers will be negotiating with the University, not with our PIs and supervisors, because it is the University’s policies othat define our employment conditions. Moreover, researchers will set the bargaining agenda and decide what improvements to prioritize in collective bargaining.

As such, a union contract would only create limitations if postdoctoral researchers and scholars democratically choose to bargain them. And forming a union would mean that the Princeton administration would not be able to make unilateral changes to working conditions that postdocs choose to negotiate in our contract.

In addition, many PIs appreciate working with unionized researchers, because a union contract means PIs do not have to negotiate every term and condition of employment (from wages to health care to leave to childcare to non-discrimination protections to vacation to appointment letter terms, etc) and instead can focus on their research.

Will we have to strike?

With a union, all union decisions – including the decision about whether or not to strike – will be made democratically by postdoctoral researchers. With a union, postdocs will collectively decide what to ask for in bargaining and whether or not a strike is necessary.

A strike is a very powerful tool for unionized workers, but a strike would only occur if union members decide a strike is necessary. The decision to strike is made collectively; under the UAW Constitution, two-thirds of workers participating in a strike authorization vote must vote yes in order to authorize a strike. While a strike is most effective if we all participate, it is an individual decision whether or not to do so.

At the University of California (UC), for example, postdocs and academic researchers in UAW Local 5810 have taken several majority votes to authorize strikes, in most cases allowing them to reach agreements with their administration without striking. Most recently, 48,000 academic workers at UC, including postdocs and academic researchers, along with student researchers and other student employees, chose to go on strike together to win improvements on pay, benefits, and workplace rights, making historic gains. Postdocs and academic researchers voted to ratify their contracts by 89.4% and 79.5%, respectively.