Find answers to FAQ’s by clicking on a topic below.
What is Academic Researchers United?
We are a group of Academic Researchers who seek to unionize in order to improve our research and employment experience at UC. Our work as Academic Researchers not only benefits the UC system and the California economy, but also has positive impacts worldwide in disciplines from energy and the environment, to medicine and astronomy. ARs may work in many different fields and have varied experiences, but our dedication to research unites us all.
By coming together to form a union, Academic Researchers are democratizing the workplace. Forming a union will enable Academic Researchers to have more rights and power to make improvements at work, guarantee UC policies that ARs like, and increase transparency as to the terms and conditions of AR employment. More broadly, forming a union as part of the UAW means joining the tens of thousands of researchers and other higher education employees who are already UAW members. Like the members of other academic unions across the US, ARs can increase political power to impact policy and funding decisions on both the state and federal governmental levels.
What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a process, recognized and protected by state law, that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, UC Academic Researchers elect representatives from amongst their peers to negotiate as equals with the UC administration. The result of negotiations is a proposed contract, called a tentative agreement, which determines terms and conditions of employment for ARs. All ARs will be asked to vote on whether or not to approve the tentative agreement, and if approved it becomes a legally binding contract. Through collective bargaining, academic workers, including the Union of Postdocs at UC, have successfully negotiated improvements in wages, benefits, job security, leaves, and many other terms and conditions of employment.
Without collective bargaining, UC has unilateral power to change conditions or decide whether to make improvements. For example, UC administration currently decides unilaterally whether to provide salary adjustments to keep up with the high cost of living in California. In the past, UC administration has unilaterally weakened the AR retirement plan, increased overhead rates on grants, changed the criteria for placement in various job titles, and eliminated some bridge funding programs.
More information about the process of collective bargaining can be found on our bargaining fact sheet
What is the process of forming a union and bargaining a contract?
You can find detailed information on the forming a union fact sheet and the collective bargaining fact sheet, however below is a summary of all the steps involved.
- ARs form a diverse organizing committee to gather information and make a plan to form a union.
- A majority of all ARs (50% + 1) sign authorization cards indicating they would like to form Academic Researchers United / UAW 5810 (ARU / UAW).
- Authorization cards are delivered to PERB (Public Employment Relations Board), the board designated to oversee public employee unionization efforts. Also included is a representation petition, which indicates which employees will make up the union and that they are petitioning to form Academic Researchers United / UAW 5810.
- PERB requests a list of ARs from UC to verify that all cards are valid and represent a majority.
- If PERB finds that a majority of ARs have signed cards, then PERB certifies ARU / UAW 5810 and ARs can begin bargaining with UC administration.
- ARs elect a bargaining committee made up of ARs.
- ARs fill out a comprehensive bargaining surveys, hold discussions, request information from UC administration, and gather feedback in a myriad of ways in order to draft initial bargaining priorities.
- Initial bargaining demands are sent to all ARs for review, and ARs vote on whether or not to approve them.
- The bargaining committee negotiates as equals with UC administration, and provides constant updates to all ARs.
- Once a tentative agreement is reached at the bargaining table, all ARs vote on whether or not to ratify the agreement.
Will I have to pay dues?
It is up to each individual AR whether or not they will choose to pay dues. No AR may be required to pay any dues or fees to the union. ARs who choose to become members will not be asked to pay dues until after a contract has been negotiated and ratified by a democratic vote. Below is more information:
Membership dues are what Academic Researchers who choose to become members of the union would pay. Under UAW policy, no AR would pay dues until after a contract is negotiated and ratified by a democratic vote in which all ARs will be encouraged to participate.
Dues cover all of the day-to-day cost of having a strong union, including paying for organizing resources and contract enforcement. Additionally, dues help pay for subject experts to negotiate on equal terms with UC’s consultants, legal and grievance representation costs, staffing, rent, equipment, and supplies. Dues also go toward the UAW Strike and Defense Fund, which would give ARs additional leverage at the bargaining table by helping ARs build the capacity to strike if necessary.
Dues in UAW Local 5810 (the Union of Postdocs at UC) are 1.44% of gross pay received from UC for work performed that is covered by the contract (so if someone is a half-time Project Scientist and half-time Lecturer, they would only pay dues on their Project Scientist salary.) Dues are not paid on the monetary value of benefits, such as health care. The dues rate can only be raised by a membership vote: either through a vote of delegates to the UAW Constitutional Convention (in which all local unions have representation), or by a vote of members of UAW 5810.
Typically, the monetary value of increased salary and benefits are much greater than the cost of dues. For example, UC Postdocs have increased average salaries by 34% and substantially reduced the cost of health care benefits since ratifying their first contract in 2010. Over 70% of UC Postdocs have chosen to become union members.
Initiation Fees: Initiation fees, like dues, are set by UAW membership. Initiation fees are only paid one time if an AR chooses to become a member of the union. They are currently $10 for all new UAW Local 5810 members. Initiation fees are used to educate new members about their rights under the collective bargaining agreement as well as contract enforcement and other support of members’ rights.
How is dues money allocated? What are dues used for?
How union dues are spent is determined democratically by union members. In UAW Local 5810 (the Union of Postdocs at UC), the Joint Council, which is made up of elected leaders from each campus (and would include ARs), approves a budget for the year. Individual expenses throughout the year are then approved by the Executive Board, which is elected statewide and meets monthly. Meetings of the JC and Executive Board are open to all members of the union. Additionally, twice a year elected trustees audit the union’s income and expenditures, and every three months the Joint Council reviews and approves the union’s financial report.
Dues cover all of the day-to-day cost of having a union. Most of the work of enforcing the contract and representing membership is financially supported by the Local Union. 26.5% of the dues are used by the Local to support its expenses including:
- Educating new employees about their rights and the union
- Contract negotiations
- Advising members in difficult situations, and supporting them through the grievance process if necessary
- Events, including educational seminars on topics like visa and immigration rights, healthcare, and taxes
- Advocacy for public policy that better supports research and researchers
An additional 26% of dues goes to the International Union’s General Fund, which provides technical support for contract negotiations, contract enforcement and supports new organizing campaigns including Academic Researchers United. The rest of the dues are allocated to the Strike and Defense Fund (44%), and Community Action Program (CAP (3.5%). A more detailed description of how Academic Researchers would be supported by these funds is below. Depending on the overall financial health of the Strike and Defense Fund (if its net worth is $500M or greater), an additional allocation of dues called a “rebate” is given back to the Local and International Union. So, in typical months, the Local 5810 portion of dues is roughly 37%.
For a great example of local union work helping workers defend their rights, see this summary of how forming a union has improved working conditions for Postdocs at UC, or this description of the various ways Postdocs at UC are taking on gender inequity in academia.
The portion of dues allocated to the International Union would support UC Academic Researchers in the following ways:
- Provide technical support for contract negotiations
- Health insurance experts who can take on the University’s consultants in order to pursue the best benefits for the best price. For example, UAW experts helped analyze Affordable Care Act compliance for UC Postdoc benefits plans, resulting in improvements like $0 copays for preventive care and contraception.
- Researchers who can help analyze UC finances to provide ARs independent and reliable data and analysis upon which to base decisions about proposals and agreements in bargaining.
- Legal advice and advocacy and greater ability to impact policy makers, especially those in Washington. For example, along with other unions, UAW International filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case challenging the Trump administration travel ban. In 2016, UAW helped win the Optional Practical Training STEM extension.
- Experienced negotiators to help achieve UC Academic Researchers’ goals, both at the bargaining table and in terms of developing an overall contract campaign.
- Provide ongoing support outside of contract negotiations:
- Guidance on grievance handling and arbitrations. For example, UAW aided UC Postdocs in winning more than $3 million in back pay by providing guidance through the arbitration process
- Advice on best practices for ensuring strong education and mobilization programs to keep members involved
- Other services as requested by the Local
- In addition, union dues help support new organizing campaigns. For example, the organizing staff and legal support for the Academic Researchers United/UAW campaign is paid for by existing UAW members’ dues money. Also, union dues have gone towards legal and organizing resources that have have been key to major victories for academic workers including:
- the passage of SB 201, which was the culmination of a decades-long fight to extend collective bargaining rights to Research Assistants at UC.
- the recent landmark NLRB decision extending collective bargaining rights to Teaching and Research Assistants at private universities, as well as the organizing resources that led to the subsequent representation election victory of Columbia University TAs and RAs, came from UAW member dues.
- A portion of dues money also goes to support political action, including legislative and other policy advocacy on issues that matter to UAW members. For example, the UAW advocates strongly for fair, comprehensive immigration reform, which would include more visa access and an improved green card process, and expanded federal support for research funding, among other topics. [NOTE: Legally, dues money cannot be used for federal campaign contributions, such as the presidential race—that money comes from members’ voluntary contributions separate from, and in addition to, dues, in a program called VCAP (Voluntary Community Action Program)].
Through UAW member dues UAW successfully:
- Advocated for the inclusion of Postdocs in the 2016 Department of Labor’s overtime ruling resulting in wage increases and new wage standards for Postdocs as well as Assistant and Associate Specialists across the country, including at UC.
- Collected a majority of the California Congressional delegation’s signatures onto a letter in support of Postdocs’ bargaining demands during the 2016 contract negotiations.
- Sponsored AB2350 to increase protections against pregnancy discrimination and has also worked to increase legal protections against sexual harassment.
- Lobbied multiple members of Congress to write Dear Colleague letters urging a stop to the sequester budget cuts.
For additional information about how dues are spent, please refer to the Local Union’s website.
What are the rights of International Academic Researchers to join the union?
International Academic Researchers have the same legal right to join a union as US citizens. In fact, international researchers hold almost half of the leadership positions in UAW 5810, the Union of Postdocs at UC.
Visa requirements in no way compromise any AR’s right to belong to a union in a US workplace. No academic union members have ever reported any complications arising from being both an International researcher and a unionized employee.
Could signing a union authorization card jeopardize or delay application for permanent residence (green card)?
Since international scholars at UC have the same legal rights as U.S. citizens, signing an authorization card should not jeopardize or delay application for legal permanent residence. Authorization cards that get submitted to California PERB (the state Public Employment Relations Board that verifies and counts the cards) are confidential and not released by PERB to the University of California or other government agencies. Thousands of Postdocs and other academic workers have signed union authorization cards in large unionization drives at the University of California and elsewhere since 2008, without any reported instance of delay or rejection of applications as a result of signing a card or otherwise participating in the unionization effort. If you have any questions about your particular situation, please email for additional resources.
Why create a union?
Forming a union with collective bargaining rights is the only way to have the power to negotiate with the UC Administration as equals and reach a legally binding contract (see also what is collective bargaining?). It also will strengthen the voice of researchers in an increasingly difficult political environment. In fact, 180,000 employees in the UC system are already represented by unions.
With collective bargaining, AR’s set our priorities and our agenda – and we elect fellow Academic Researchers as representatives to negotiate on equal footing with UC administrators for improvements such as salary increases, career development resources, better job security, parental leave, retirement benefits, and much more. Additionally, we hope to gain more support and recognition for our research contributions commensurate with the billions of dollars in research revenue UC receives each year. Some ideas include bridge funding programs, overhead return, removing bureaucratic hurdles to applying for research grants, and more. A union will allow us to have a robust discussion about various options amongst all ARs, and the ability to negotiate for the changes we want to prioritize with UC.
Without collective bargaining, UC has unilateral power to change conditions or decide whether to make improvements. For example, UC administration currently decides unilaterally whether to provide salary adjustments to keep up with the high cost of living in California. In the past, UC administration has unilaterally weakened the AR retirement plan, negotiated increased overhead rates on grants, changed the criteria for placement in various job titles, and eliminated some bridge funding programs.
Why a union instead of a university affiliated advocacy organization?
Only a union with collective bargaining rights has the power to negotiate a binding contract with an employer as equals. For example, since electing to form UAW 5810 (the Union of Postdocs at UC) in 2009, UC Postdocs have had a track record of success, including increasing the average Postdoc salary by 34% since 2010. The Union of Postdocs also negotiated guaranteed annual salary increases, protection from unjustified layoffs, locked in affordable health care benefits for four years, and 4 weeks of fully paid parental leave for all Postdocs (in addition to short-term disability leave and other forms of leave for new parents), and more.
Many Academic Researchers involved in Academic Researchers United have taken part in other advocacy organizations and believe those groups have an important role to play. UAW 5810 has worked closely and effectively with Postdoctoral Scholar Associations on many campuses, for example. However, while there are many great university affiliated organizations, only a union can collectively bargain a binding contract.
Additionally, as more researchers form unions, Academic Researchers will have a stronger voice to advocate on broader issues such as increasing public investment in research, better visa and immigration policies for international Academic Researchers, and better working conditions for all researchers.
What’s the difference between a union and the UC Davis Academic Federation?
According to its website, the UC Davis Academic Federation is comprised of “instructors, researchers, health care practitioners, librarians, and more” and it serves to “promote the ideas and interests of our members to campus administration and other stakeholders.” The key difference between the Academic Federation and a union is that the Academic Federation cannot collectively bargain with the University of California, while a union has the power to bargain as equals and reach a binding contract. In addition, the Academic Federation only exists at the Davis campus, but many rights and benefits for ARs are determined statewide by the UC Office of the President. A union of all ARs at the University of California could more effectively address these statewide policies.
With these key differences in mind, ARs involved in Academic Researchers United do believe that campus organizations like the Academic Federation have an important role to play in advocating for academic employees at UC, and certainly the Academic Federation has some great ideas for improvements and ways to collaborate with UC administration. A union can work hand in hand with organizations like the Academic Federation towards the mutual benefit of ARs and other UC employees.
What does “exclusive representation” mean? Exclusive representation means that the union Academic Researchers are forming, Academic Researchers United / UAW 5810 (the Union of Postdocs at UC), is the union for all UC academic researchers. If the union is formed, ARs will be able to elect a bargaining team (made up of ARs) to negotiate with UC administration and reach a tentative agreement. Without exclusive representation, UC administrators could undermine the bargaining process by negotiating with another group of AR’s different from the democratically elected bargaining team.
You can learn more about the collective bargaining process from the bargaining fact sheet.
Will a union limit supervisors’ ability to provide additional wage increases?
With a union, Academic Researchers will decide what kinds of salary protections and/or increases they want to bargain for. There are many possible options. In the case of UAW 5810 (the Union of Postdocs at UC), the contract sets minimum salary levels and explicitly states that “nothing shall preclude the University from providing compensation to Postdoctoral Scholars at rates above those required”. No union for academic workers has bargained a contract that requires all union members to make the same amount.
To learn more about how bargaining works, you can also take a look at the bargaining fact sheet.
Will forming a union cause UC to reduce benefits or lower pay?
No. On the contrary, once a union is formed, UC cannot unilaterally alter any terms and conditions of employment—including pay and benefits. Instead, changes to terms and conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining, through which Academic Researchers have the power to negotiate with UC administrators as equals and democratically approve a binding, enforceable contract.
Won’t jobs go away if Academic Researchers get raises?
As a union, Academic Researchers (ARs) will have access to UC financial information that affects ARs, which will make it possible to be well-informed and conscientious during bargaining. All bargaining decisions will be made by ARs, including what proposals to make in bargaining, and whether to approve any proposed contract.
By developing thoughtful bargaining proposals and advocating successfully for increased higher education and research funding, unions of academic workers have made significant improvements to their working conditions. As an example, bargaining and advocacy by UAW 5810 (the Union of Postdocs at UC) has resulted in a 34% average wage increase for Postdocs since 2010, while over the same span the number of Postdocs employed by the University of California has increased from 5,800 to 7,000.
Finally, Academic Researchers have more power to protect jobs through collective action and the protections of a legally binding contract. Most collective bargaining agreements prohibit the employer from terminating positions due to arbitrary or discriminatory reasons, or to take action inconsistent with job offers accepted by the employee. Not only would ARs be able to act collectively, but we would also have the full backing of the unionized Postdocs and student employees on campus, and the larger UAW International Union.
Will forming a union limit Academic Researchers’ direct relationship with supervisors?
As a union, ARs will be negotiating with the University, not with our peers and supervisors, because it is the policies of the University that define the conditions of our employment. Moreover, ARs will set the bargaining agenda and decide what improvements to prioritize in collective bargaining.
As such, a union contract would only create limitations if Academic Researchers democratically choose to impose them. And forming a union would mean that UC administration would not be able to make unilateral changes to working conditions that ARs choose to preserve. For example, if the union contract sets ARs portion of the cost of healthcare premiums at a particular level, UC administration would not be able to raise that amount without the agreement of ARs.
Does a union contract make it harder to get a promotion?
As a union, ARs set the bargaining agenda and decide what improvements to prioritise in collective bargaining. Through collective bargaining, ARs could choose to negotiate for improvements to the promotion process and democratically decide what those improvements should be.
As a recent example, Postdocs at UC chose to negotiate a contract that provides minimal guarantees (like minimum salary levels, parental leave, healthcare, personal time off) and job protections (like protection from sexual harassment, discrimination, and unfair termination), but which does not impose a seniority system, strict work hours, or merit based pay increases.
Will having a union mean I’m only allowed to work a certain number of hours?
AR’s will democratically decide on the terms of employment that most benefit our ability to perform research at a high level. But recent contract negotiated by other UAW academic unions have emphasized protections against excessive workload while allowing flexibility to allow for maximal productivity. For example:
- UC Postdocs chose not to bargain for an hourly limit to their workload. Instead, the contract for Postdocs at UC protects against excessive, unnecessary workload by stating “work schedules must be reasonable, and related to research needs.”
- The contract for Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants at the University of Washington protects against excessive workload by setting an hourly limit to the amount of work that may be assigned, but allows work assignments for Research Assistants to exceed their hourly limit if that work contributes to their dissertation project.
I am a PI. Won’t improvements simply come out of my own grant funding?
With a union, Academic Researchers (a large proportion of which are PIs) will determine bargaining priorities. ARs are most likely to choose to bargain for provisions which increase institutional support from UC, provide protections, and reduce bureaucracy.
Almost all ARs are funded through soft money and most have played a role in writing grant applications. An AR union will be sensitive to issues surrounding research funding, and make proposals which improve our careers and ability to do research. With a union, ARs can request detailed information from UC and collect large amounts of feedback in order to make highly informed proposals which benefit everyone.
Will Academic Researchers have to strike?
AR’s decide if a strike is a necessary action to take. Under the UAW Constituion, 2/3 of those participating in a strike authorization vote must vote yes in order to authorize a strike being called. While a strike is most effective if everyone participates, it is an individual decision whether or not to participate.
Striking is a last resort as a tactic and is rare. 98% of union contracts are reached without a strike.
Why should AR’s join forces with UAW 5810, the Union of Postdocs at UC?
UAW 5810 is the union comprised of 7,000 Postdocs at the University of California. UC Postdocs have advocated successfully both for themselves and the broader research community, around issues including:
- Improved compensation and benefits to better match Postdoc contributions to UC
- More gender equitable workplaces
- Increased rights for international researchers
Though Academic Researchers (ARs) will be joining with the Postdoc Union, ARs will elect a bargaining committee made up of solely ARs and have a democratic bargaining process separate from Postdocs. Once a collective bargaining agreement has been negotiated, all UC ARs (and only ARs) can vote to approve or reject the agreement, which decides whether it goes into effect.
While Academic Researchers will bargain with UC through their own democratic process, ARs and Postdocs share many of the same basic values. By joining the 7,000 Postdocs already included in UAW 5810, Academic Researchers will have greater collective strength – both in negotiating with UC and in making improvements to public policy.
Why are academic workers choosing to join UAW?
UAW is the International Union of United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). UAW has historically been one of the largest and most diverse unions in North America. In recent decades, 70,000 workers in higher education have joined, making UAW the single largest union for academic workers across the US. UC Postdocs have found that joining the UAW has allowed them to democratically determine priorities as a workforce and dramatically increased power to win improved rights and benefits through collectively bargaining with UC.
In addition to the 7,000 Postdocs at UC, thousands of other academic workers across the country have formed unions through the UAW including UC’s 15,000 TAs, tutors, readers and 4,000 part-time and adjunct faculty members at NYU and The New School. Each of these UAW Locals has won increases in pay, benefits and workplace rights. Having the same union represent Academic Researchers and Postdocs at UC builds power and allows AR’s to draw on years of UAW experience in representing UC employees.
What is Academic Researchers United working on right now?
We are collecting union authorization cards from a majority of UC Academic Researchers in order to join UAW 5810, the Union of Postdocs at UC. If you haven’t had the chance to sign one yet, please contact us!
At the same time, ARs also meet regularly to direct the organizing campaign with the help of UAW 5810. If you are interested in helping out, please contact us to get involved!
How do I get involved in Academic Researchers United?
Mass majority participation is essential to unionization. There are many ways to get involved and every voice helps. If you have questions and/or would like to get involved in our campaign to form a Union of Academic Researchers, please fill out a contact form here or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.