It should come as no surprise that Donald Trump is anti-union and his recent cabinet pick for Secretary of Labor is clearly not a friend of working people. Put simply, Trump is on the side of big business and employers. And if he and his billionaire friends can squeeze more work out of employees for lesser pay, then he and his administration gladly propose legislation to accomplish those goals. Also, don’t be shocked when Trump cuts the budgets of federal agencies that offer research grants, fellowships and teaching assistantships to American colleges and Universities.
It’s no secret that graduate students and postdocs are overworked and underpaid and long term career prospects continue to dwindle. Further, during the course of my career advising graduate students and postdocs about job opportunities, I have heard too many horror stories about PIs who refuse to let their students or postdoc do anything outside of their laboratories to enhance careers or job opportunities.
While the public and private union movement is dying in the US, unions still offer exploited workers to negotiate their fates, working conditions, pay and benefits with employers. Sadly, we in the academic community have been taught to be anti-union because of the high costs associated with union labor. Ironically, that is the point….why should graduate students and postdocs not be fairly compensated for the long hours that they work? Sure, you can say that graduate students will get a degree and postdocs need the experience to get a job but, while a degree and a postdoc in the past meant a good paying job in the end, no such guarantees exist today. Basically, you are on your own!
Last week, graduate students at Columbia University overwhelmingly voted to unionize. According to a newspaper article in the NY Times:
The union will be the first to represent graduate students since the National Labor Relations Board ruled in August that students who work as teaching and research assistants have a federal right to unionize.
The vote to unionize was 1,602 to 623, according to the United Automobile Workers, which will now represent some 3,500 Columbia graduate students.
While the vote to unionize will undoubtedly upsets PIs, Deans and University Presidents, it is in the best career interests and lifestyles of graduate students and research assistants. For example, unions typically negotiate the salaries for 40 hour work weeks. We all know that postdocs and graduate students work more than 40 hours weekly. Therefore, any time over 40 hours ought to be overtime pay, or to avoid overtime hourly pay, base salaries have to be set a certain levels (according to Federal salary guidelines ) which are substantially more than what graduate students and postdocs are currently paid. Also, unions negotiate with employers about vacation times, benefits (health and life insurance,401K plans etc) and establish guidelines that protect employees from being abused by employers and create rules that guide whether or not an employee can be fired “for cause” (not simply because your employer does not like you).
As I previously mentioned, research budgets and public unions will likely be under constant attack during the Trump regime. Because of this, it is time that everyone begins to think about ways in which they can protect their jobs and keep their career aspirations alive. I know it won’t be easy but as someone once said “desperate times require desperate measures” (or something like that).
Until next time….
Good Luck and Good Unionizing!!!!!!