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Unionization: Is it Enhancing the Postdoc Experience?. NAS: March 8, 2012 Christine D. Des Jarlais Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs UCSF Graduate Division. University of California Ten- C ampus System. 6,309. 6,309 UC Postdocs. UCSF 1,100 Postdocs. AGE. VISA.

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unionization is it enhancing the postdoc experience

Unionization: Is it Enhancing the Postdoc Experience?

NAS: March 8, 2012

Christine D. Des Jarlais

Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs

UCSF Graduate Division


University of California

Ten-Campus System


before contract cosepup recs implemented at uc
Before Contract: COSEPUP recs implemented at UC
  • Postdoc-only policy, APM 390 (2003)
  • Postdoc-only benefits plan (2005)
  • Increased communication between University and PD
  • Annual review required (but not written or enforced)
  • 5-year time limit
cosepup recs cont
COSEPUP recs,cont.
  • Full access to Career Center (at UCSF, UCB)
  • Appointment letter required
  • Minimum salary established
  • Postdoc data collected
  • 3 unique title codes
  • PDO and PDA established
  • International Office
  • Faculty mentoring program

Why did Postdocs Unionize?

Possible factors:




faculty mentor
Faculty Mentor?

Or Tor-Mentor?

the self replicating professor
The self-replicating professor…

Not enough faculty positions

Need to train for other careers

  • Teams
  • Within team dynamics
  • Unusual power dynamics
    • Classic leverage points not applicable

--Will Postdocs Really Strike?

UAW said UC was stalling

    • Congressional hearing
  • 17 months
needed to educate uaw lr staff
Needed to educate UAW & LR staff
  • Brought in experts:
    • Contracts & Grants
    • Benefits Brokers
    • International experts

Result: 1ststand alone PD union contract

uc uaw contract
UC-UAW Contract
  • Pre-employment issues still in UC control
  • Covers postdocs in all 3 title codes
  • Preserved Academic Judgment
  • What is not in contract is retained as management right
  • No Direct Dealing
  • No Strike Article
academic judgment
  • Preserved as a management right:
    • Recruitment, Appointment, Qualifications
    • Assignment of duties and responsibilities
    • Communication & mentoring
    • Work performance standards
    • Decision to discipline, dismiss, layoff
    • Determine research topics, goals, quality, etc
    • Determine all aspects of presentations and publications
    • Timing & amount of merit increases
  • Typically cannot be arbitrated
  • Phase in NIH/NRSA scale
  • Starting June 1, 2011, all new appointments made to NRSA scale
  • Nothing precludes University from paying higher $
  • All PD appointed Aug 31, 2010 or earlier got ATB increase Sept 1, 2010
  • Not required to provide salary increase between Sept 2010 through May 31, 2011
  • UC PSBP: health, dental, vision, STD, Life Insurance, AD&D, optional LTD
  • At UCSF and UCSC, PIs must continue to cover benefits costs for dependents
  • 2012: Postdocs started making contributions to HMO
  • Personal Time Off: 24 days/yrat start of appointment
  • Sick Leave: 12 days/yr at start of appt
idps and progress assessments
IDPs and Progress Assessments
  • IDP Not Required:but if Postdoc wants to create one, a process must be followed that includes PI input
  • Required: PI must communicate research and progress expectations at start of each appointment year
  • Required: informal periodic progress assessments and writtenannual review
  • Not Grievable: Quality of mentoring / contentof performance evals and progress assessments
  • Grievable: Not following processfor creating IDPs, doing progress assessments and performance evals
significant changes apm 390 vs contract
Significant Changes: APM 390 vs Contract
  • Policy was not as enforceable
  • Just Cause standard for D&D (not “just because”)
  • Arbitration
  • FMLA-like leave for those not eligible for FMLA
  • Paid PTO & Sick Leave not accrued – given up-front
  • IDPs & written evaluations
  • Labor-Management Meetings for ongoing discussions and flow of information
  • Union requests for information
no substantive changes
No Substantive Changes
  • Definition of a PD – still trainees
  • Recruiting and hiring process
  • Benefits
  • Retirement for PD Employees
  • Layoff procedure
  • D&D procedures
  • Grievance procedure
union contract and cosepup
Union Contract and COSEPUP
  • Compensation commensurate with PD contributions to research…
  • Written performance expectations & annual review
  • PD have major input into union contract
  • Requiring better quality data
  • Forces university to review PD status and experience
faculty reaction
Faculty Reaction
  • Slow to respond to organizing campaign
  • Very apprehensive
  • After contract
    • Relationship with individual PD – no real change
    • Research & lab dynamics – no real change
    • Mostly unaware of contract provisions
    • Not really doing anything differently
postdoc reactions
Postdoc Reactions
  • Positive: LARGE ally behind them
  • Positive: Salary now must increase each appt year
  • Negative: Union tactics too aggressive
  • Negative: Mandatory fees (for those who don’t join)
  • Wary of going to union about PI problems
  • Confusion about distinctions among union, PDA, and PDO
power differential still a big issue
PowerDifferential Still a Big Issue
  • Union has not made a big difference at the individual level
  • Union does make big difference at institutional level
  • PD see Union as “watchdog”
international postdocs
International Postdocs
  • Increasing numbers and percentages
  • Differing cultural issues
  • Role remains largely unexplored
  • US offers prestige & better wages
  • Some hope H1B will lead to PR
  • Some evidence that Faculty treat international PD differently
  • Some internationals appointed in non-PD titles
    • Lower wages
    • Little PI accountability
impact of unionization
Impact of unionization?
  • Too soon to tell
    • Will UC be more or less competitive for postdocs?
    • Fewer or more postdocs?
    • Will faculty behavior change?
    • Will relationship between PI and postdoc change?
  • For vast majority of PIs and PD, probably not much difference
  • For the few problem PIs and PDs, unionization likely to make significant difference
enhancing the pd experience vol 2
Enhancing the PD Experience: Vol 2
  • Focus on International PD
  • COLA
  • More guidance in choosing a lab
  • More attention paid to the needs of women PD: Improved childbearing and parental leave
  • Learn from URM PD
  • Retirement options for PD on stipends
  • Allow postdocs to be PIs
  • Exit surveys and tracking esp for PD networking
fundamental disconnect
Fundamental Disconnect

Funding agencies and COSEPUP need more dialogue to get in sync – there is a NEW REALITY

c hanging the research system
Changing the research system?
  • Faculty?
    • Cheap and disposable trainees
  • System itself is exploitative
  • Career structure is broken
  • Would research grind to a haltwithout ready supply of PD?
is unionization necessary
Is unionization necessary?

It boils down to the individual faculty member:

additional resources
Additional Resources

UC-UAW Postdoc Union Contract:


Publications on international postdocs:

  • “Unseen Workers in the Academic Factory: Perceptions of Neoracism Among International Postdocs in the United States and the United Kingdom,” Brendan Cantwell& Jenny J. Lee


  • “Academic in-sourcing: international postdoctoral employment and new modes of academic production,”


  • Transnational Mobility and International Academic Employment: Gatekeeping in an Academic Competition Arena”



Chris Des Jarlais