should i join the postdoc union?

October 25, 2010 at 8:07 am | | open thread, postdoc life, science community

Postdocs at Berkeley (in fact the whole UC system) formed a union a few years back. Recently, the union negotiated a better contract with UC, which brings the postdoc pay up to … wait for it … the NIH minimum! That’s actually a big step. (Read more about it in Nature.)


  • I can listen to Woody Guthrie without feeling guilty
  • it supports a good cause: I do think that postdocs need someone looking out for their interests
  • it is a relatively small amount of money to ensure that postdocs have representation


  • it costs 0.28% of my paycheck to join (although that’s only around $100)
  • my money might go towards those terrible political ads on TV
  • the general possibility of making my relationship with my PI more adversarial

I’m conflicted. Thoughts?


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  1. I agree that…

    Comment by Marcial-Concello de Maside — October 25, 2010 #

  2. As a pinko, commie, socialist Dane I can only recommend unions.

    It sounds like this one is even doing some good.

    the general possibility of making my relationship with my PI more adversarial

    What doesn’t make that relationship adversarial? At least if you’re unionised someone has your back, if your PI bullies you. Assuming of course it’s a good union.

    Comment by Sili — October 25, 2010 #

  3. since you cannot afford to go into a labor conflict kind of situation with your PI, you will likely not personally benefit from being unionized. You will support a (potentially) good cause

    Comment by milkshake — October 25, 2010 #

  4. Sili, i rarely feel that my relationship with my PI is adversarial. we tend to have similar goals and interests!

    Comment by sam — October 25, 2010 #

  5. Union dues can not be used to fund political action committees. That was taken away during the Bush years I believe.

    Comment by Mitch — October 25, 2010 #

  6. a few more Cons, but only if you have a conscience:

    when NIH-funded postdocs advocate for more pay/benefits, what they are really doing is begging politicians to steal more money from the taxpayers on their behalf. Do you think that if you described what you do to the average taxpayer, they would voluntarily agree to hand over more of their money to you?

    And actually, unions do not generally have a net positive effect when there is an abundant labor force. All the union does is exclude everyone else who was not privileged enough to join the union from voluntarily agreeing to do the same job for less pay. Do you think the postdoc union would be around for long if you removed all the coercive pro-union laws that are propping it up?

    Comment by matt — October 25, 2010 #

  7. Unions are an invaluable source of support for otherwise-exploited workers such as postdocs. At least you don’t have to die for the right to unionize (as many coal miners did, years back in my corner of the country).

    Comment by psi*psi — October 25, 2010 #

  8. Thanks for my morning post idea. :-)

    Comment by Chemjobber — October 26, 2010 #

  9. Some strongly disagree that the NIH pay scale in question should be viewed as a minimum:

    “Although the contract may specify that postdocs receive a minimum salary that is related to the National Institutes of Health postdoctoral stipend scale, that amount is not ‘recommended’ by NIH to anyone, nor is it an NIH ‘guideline’ (for example, for research grant budgets). It is the amount that is awarded to applicants who go through a rigorous and highly competitive review and receive a prestigious Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NIH postdoctoral fellowship). … Yet UC policy is that all postdocs must be compensated at the same level as the best of their peer group, who were selected for the honor of NIH postdoctoral fellowships.”

    Comment by Jyllian — October 26, 2010 #

  10. I posted about post-doc unions a while ago. In general, I think they’re a bad idea. The post-doc is such a transient, short term position that it doesn’t make sense to unionize. You’ll only be there for 1.5-3 years. What if you have a 6-mo strike? What are you going to present at your job interview? What are you going to put on your resume for your progress during your post-doc tenure?

    Comment by azmanam — October 26, 2010 #

  11. I’m pretty sure the PRO/UAW contract states that postdocs won’t strike. For obvious reasons.

    Comment by sam — October 26, 2010 #

  12. It’s better to complain from the inside.

    Comment by jordan — October 26, 2010 #

  13. Join it. If your advisor is reasonable and respectful of you, it shouldn’t be a problem.

    Comment by Crystallinity — November 4, 2010 #

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