US: Universities should prepare for postdoc unions

Research universities should prepare for the possibility that postdoctoral researchers will work to form unions by developing consistent policies on how postdocs are treated and establishing student support groups as alternatives to unions, a panel of deans said on Thursday at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools, writes Josh Keller for The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus blog.

Postdocs have only recently started to organise into unions at American public universities, starting in Connecticut, California and New Jersey. The push for postdoctoral unions may extend elsewhere, forcing universities to deal with a variety of academic and workplace issues at the bargaining table, the panelists said.

Universities should act in advance to more clearly define policies toward postdocs, panelists said. Establishing guidelines on compensation, tuition, visas and intellectual property - and ensuring they are consistently applied - may discourage unionisation, and it will help ensure more productive negotiations if a union does form, they said.

A union of Rutgers postdocs was certified in July, making it among the first in the country. At the University of California, where 6,400 postdocs won union certification in August, union officials are negotiating with the university over pay and other issues.
Full report on the Chronicle of Higher Education site