The election to decide whether we form a union of graduate students and postdocs at Caltech is this week. Our union, composed of and governed democratically by all of us, will give us a unique opportunity to bargain for improvements to our working conditions and protect them in an enforceable contract.

At the bottom of this email are answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions, including how dues work, what our contract would look like, and information on the improvements unionized academics have won. In the past several years, unionization in higher education has resulted in significant improvements for both graduate students and postdocs at institutions including the University of California system, USC, MIT, Harvard, Columbia, Mt. Sinai, and the University of Washington. The gap between progress at unionized universities and Caltech compelled the Graduate Student Council to formally endorse the unionization campaign and hundreds of postdocs and grads to sign on to a letter explaining why we are voting yes

Election details:
When: January 31st and February 1st. Polls are open between 9AM-1PM and 3-7PM both days. You can vote on either day.
How: All voting is IN PERSON except for eligible mail voters.
Where: Ramo Auditorium lobby on the south end of Baxter Hall 
What is on the ballot: A single yes/no question asking whether you support forming C/GPU. This is a secret ballot election. Only you will know how you voted. 

Every eligible voter should take this opportunity to make their voice heard. For better working conditions and a more democratic Caltech, see you at the polls!

Richard Horak, G4, BBE

Answers to some frequently asked questions!

1. What are union dues? What are they used for? 

Dues in UAW are 1.44% of gross monthly pay. Dues are not collected until after we elect our bargaining teams, negotiate with Caltech, and all grads/postdocs vote to ratify our first contracts. Other institutions (like UC, Mt. Sinai, and MIT) have negotiated contracts such that the wage increases. benefits, and protections far outstrip the cost of dues. Membership dues provide resources that are not under the university’s control for purposes such as effective legal support, educating new grads/postdocs about their rights, bargaining future contracts, and contract enforcement. A portion of dues also goes to the UAW strike and defense fund, which provides workers with a baseline income should they choose to go on strike and serves as a deterrent to encourage employers to bargain in good faith.

2. What will be in the union contract? How will my interests be considered in bargaining?

Bargaining priorities will be democratically chosen by grads and postdocs after a successful union election. This election is about the right to bargain with Caltech, which we currently lack. In their respective bargaining processes, all grads and postdocs will vote to determine who among their coworkers represents them in bargaining, decide together what to prioritize, and vote on whether or not to ratify any proposed contracts. Preliminary surveys suggest Caltech grads and postdocs prioritize improvements in compensation, healthcare benefits, protections from abuse and harassment, and childcare assistance, among other issues. Additionally, we will have open bargaining, meaning grads and postdocs not on the bargaining team can still observe bargaining meetings. Bargaining is a highly participatory process, in which all of us have a voice and what we achieve depends on our involvement. For a sense of how this works in practice, check out the USC Grad Worker bargaining page or the Mt. Sinai Postdoc website

3. Where is the evidence that unions have made improvements to higher education? 

You can read about improvements to working conditions in union contracts for graduate students and for postdocs at the UCs, MIT, Columbia, Harvard, UW, and other schools. These pages are thoroughly referenced to union contracts, many of which can also be found here. These improvements include unprecedented raises; improvements to healthcare, childcare, and disability accommodations; enforceable protections against harassment, abuse, and discrimination; and protections for international researchers. For example, grads at USC just won 6+ weeks PTO and universal childcare support last month in their first contract, and postdocs at Mt. Sinai just won substantial pay increases and a housing guarantee.

4. Why UAW?

United Auto Workers is the largest union for higher-ed academic workers, and their experience and network gives us greater strength and resources. UAW unions include over 100,000 graduate students, postdocs, and faculty, including grads at UC, UW, USC, Columbia, and Harvard, and postdocs at the UCs, UW, Columbia, Mount Sinai, LBNL, and the NIH

UAW recently undertook a series of massive reforms to re-center power in the hands of individual members, including moving to a one member, one vote system, creating more regional autonomy, and electing new leadership. It has reinvented itself as a dynamic union that is capable of making progress for workers across multiple industries. 

5. Will forming a union limit my flexibility or inhibit my vacation days?

Flexibility is of crucial importance to grads and postdocs, and for conducting high-level research in general. Since we (as grads and postdocs) will be negotiating our union contracts, we can bargain for language that will protect our existing flexibility, and reject proposals that may limit it. For example, USC Grad Workers recently won six weeks of paid time off and there have been no reports of lost flexibility or grads needing to fill out timesheets. University of Washington postdocs recently won a contract that protects their workplace flexibility, despite proposals from their administration that would have required many of them to track their hours.