What is collective bargaining? What is the faculty union contract?
Postdoctoral associates and some postdoctoral fellows at Rutgers have a union contract that allows our union to negotiate changes to the terms and conditions of employment. “Collective bargaining” refers to the legal process by which we do this. Unlike other bodies such as the University Senate, where members of the Rutgers community can only recommend the university make certain changes, the union contract is a legally binding document. All appointment letters and university policies are subordinate to it. It creates a floor (and not a ceiling) for wages/salaries, benefits, and working conditions.
Who is in Rutgers AAUP-AFT? What does it mean to merge the postdoc contract with the Rutgers AAUP-AFT full-time faculty and grad worker contract?
Rutgers AAUP-AFT has been around since 1970, when full-time faculty unionized. The graduate student workers joined the union in 1972 and work under the same contract as full-time faculty. Postdocs unionized under Rutgers AAUP-AFT into a separate, postdoc-only bargaining unit in 2009. Because we work under a separate contract, the University hasn’t extended all the benefits to postdocs that it has to Rutgers faculty and graduate workers. Rutgers also delayed negotiations for our last postdoc contract by two years.
The goal of our bargaining unit merger campaign is to merge postdocs into the union’s main contract so we have more bargaining power. Simply put, we are stronger together. This will allow us to bring more competitive compensation to everyone who teaches and researches at Rutgers and better solve systemic problems like pay inequity and lack of support. And to clarify an important issue: your compensation will not go down as a result of any alignment.
Why is our postdoc union merging its contract with other members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT?
The postdoc bargaining unit is siloed off from other campus workers, including the people we work with in our labs every day. This weakens us as organized workers. Because of this separation, our last contract took two years to negotiate. The full-time faculty and grad workers unit, on the other hand, has rarely had a contract negotiation stretch beyond a year. If we win all of the mergers that are currently being organized, our combined unit can bargain for postdocs with a combined 10,000 academic workers standing together and championing our proposals.
To give a few concrete examples, the minimum salary for non-tenure-track research faculty, many of whom initially came to Rutgers as postdocs, is $69,000 a year. Our postdoc-only unit’s wage floor of $50,000 a year is 38 percent lower. In addition, the faculty and grad contract contains a grievance procedure to address denial of reappointment (i.e., another avenue to win a worker’s job back), longer periods of protected sick leave, and better job security.
What is a “bargaining unit”? Who does that consist of?
For purposes of the merger campaign, our bargaining unit consists of all postdocs (both dues-paying and non-dues-paying employees) who are currently working at Rutgers. Our union currently represents around 650 out of about 900 postdocs at Rutgers.
Our contract currently does not cover two important groups of workers: around 150 postdocs who work in labs mostly on the New Brunswick and Newark campuses and are a part of Rutgers Biomedical Health Sciences (RBHS), and around 120 postdoctoral fellows whose funding comes from a grant linked to them rather than the lab of their Principal Investigator (PI). The Rutgers administration says that this latter group isn’t formally employed by the university despite the fact that their paychecks say Rutgers on them, and many of these fellows go in and out of union coverage while working in the exact same labs and doing the same research work. This has real consequences for these postdocs: their health insurance is student health insurance, and they do not have pension contributions or real recourse to address abuses of power. Rutgers administration is similarly avoiding union coverage by having the private sector Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health be the primary employer of recently hired Rutgers biomedical faculty.
Just because your current job title is not covered by our union contract does not mean that you cannot organize with us. In fact, your participation is necessary to ensure that you and future postdocs have union rights and protections and more equitable pay and benefits.
What is a unit merger card campaign, and how does it work?
A merger card campaign is essentially a petition campaign for those working under our union’s postdoc contract to choose to be represented under the contract for full-time faculty and graduate workers.. Under New Jersey labor law, if a majority (50 percent plus one) of the people represented sign cards to join another bargaining unit, a state agency called the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) will certify the combined unit. Before going to PERC, the unions can ask Rutgers to honor the wishes of its petition signers and simply agree to the merged bargaining units.
Other Rutgers academic workers in separate bargaining units—the Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey AAUP (AAUP-BHSNJ) and the Part-Time Faculty Lecturer Chapter (PTLFC-AAUP-AFT)—recently completed similar campaigns within a few months, signing up 1,100 and 700 workers respectively in favor of unit mergers with the full-time faculty and grad worker unit.
In order to win this card campaign, we aim to collect signatures from 60 percent of postdocs—about 480 people.
You can sign your unit merger card here.
Is signing a card the same thing as becoming a voting and dues-paying member of the union?
No. The petition card on this website is simply to merge the union contracts and to bargain as one. You have to sign a different electronic form to become a union member. Click here to become a member of the union. We want all postdocs eligible to join the union to do so. In this way they can support the union’s efforts and not shift the cost to their colleagues who do pay union dues.
How will a merger affect my job as a Rutgers postdoc?
There will be no change to your daily work. Our goal is that the combined power of bringing all faculty, grad workers, and postdocs under one contract will win better compensation, increased job protections, and other additional benefits. The combined union will be much more politically powerful, organized, and well-resourced.
Will my union dues increase if I sign a unit merger petition card?
No. Whether or not a dues-paying postdoc signs a unit merger petition card will have no impact on what that member pays for dues.
How will we ensure that postdocs’ concerns are addressed within the larger bargaining unit?
We recognize that postdocs sometimes have issues or duties which other Rutgers academic workers do not. Postdoc union members will ensure that any terms and conditions of employment for any combined contract benefit us.
What happens if Rutgers rejects our union’s demand for a combined contract?
Rutgers has little legal recourse in challenging our will. It may choose to do so, but that will not delay or obstruct negotiations. Nevertheless, we will be mobilizing as a part of the larger contract campaign to ensure that this merger campaign succeeds.
WHat has the Rutgers postdoc union already won on its own?
For our last contract, we won a 17.5 percent increase in the minimum postdoc salary from $42,000 to $50,000 a year, up from $30,000 a year in 2009 (an absolute increase of 67 percent). In addition, we’ve won better health insurance (previously we were on student health insurance); protections against discrimination; 15 to 18 days paid time off for vacation, 3 days off for bereavement time, protected unpaid medical time off, and leave time; protections against firing; protections against unsafe working conditions; a commitment to supporting international workers; and a grievance procedure to enforce all of the above.
What can we win together as one union of Rutgers academic workers?
Whatever we’re willing to fight for! More worker power means that our imaginations and organizational capacity are the only limits.