Membership in the Postdoc Union
Full members have the right to vote on the changes when postdoc terms and conditions of employment are modified through collective bargaining and have an ongoing way of advocating for themselves as a group.
Individually, postdoc members are better informed about their employment rights and have the peace of mind of knowing where to turn if the individual employee has an employment question. The union union is of, by, and for postdocs--with staff and elected faculty leaders assisting you. Postdocs are not alone on the job (even if they do not know many other postdoc colleagues) because the union has several units of faculty and staff at Rutgers. We are all working together to improve higher education.
Here's the link to the Agreement that is the foundation under every postdoc's basic working conditions: Postdoc Collective Negotiations Agreement, 2015-2019
Union membership is like having an "employment laboratory" experience. This is an important part of the transition from being a new PhD to becoming a mature professional--whether you aspire to a future in academia or plan to move on to employment in industry.
Having a short-term appointment is no reason to decline union membership. In fact, the shortness of the work time as a postdoc is actually a fact-of-the-matter that is one of the most important reasons to join. Your lack of time to solve problems individually makes having a union even more important. Each individual postdoc and the collective whole will be better informed, empowered. You will have peace of mind. Help yourself and help others by making sure the union continues to have legal standing to be able to advocate with and for postdocs. Any union needs at least a simple majority to continue to have standing as a union vis-a-vis the employer. The shortness of a postdoc appointment means it is hard work for us to keep our numbers strong. Join to make sure the union is there for you and your colleagues.
Special note for non-US citizen postdocs: You can have a say in how Rutgers treats its postdocs because of the union, even though you are not U.S. citizens--its safe, legal, and empowering for international scholars and US citizens alike.
Special note for postdoc fellows and associates who work at remote locations and rarely (if ever) set foot on a Rutgers campus: You are still a Rutgers employee and your employment foundation is guaranteed via the union-negotiated Collective Negotiations Agreement.
Having a say in your terms and conditions of employment includes having protection against arbitrary, non-legitimate disciplinary or discharge actions. You have a confidential right to talk with union staff and have due process rights. "Due process" means that you can turn to the union for help in defending yourself against unfair treatment, e.g. in cases of possible termination or discipline.
Explanation of the nonmember representation fee, switching to union dues, and why joining the union is important
Every employee working in the postdoc bargaining unit starts by paying the nonmember representation fee required by New Jersey labor law and, then, employees who voluntarily agree to join the Postdoc Union, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, sign a membership form that switches them from paying the fee to full membership dues. The fee or dues are both paid by small deductions from the biweekly paycheck, so switching from the nonmember fee to member dues begins when the signed membership form is sent by the union to RU Human Resources.
You transition from mere fee paying and having a right to a full voice within the union as we together take actions that members have ratified.
Full dues are 0.75% of salary. The representation fee is slightly lower than full dues (85% of the full member dues amount); thus, stepping up to be a full member is the way to claim full voice and vote in the Postdoc Union.
The small increase to membership dues is actually a huge step towards basic rights being guaranteed.
The representation fee is a "fair share" service charge that non-members pay for the basic services that the union provides. This fee helps the union pay for collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance processes, but the money does not get spent for partisan political purposes. A totally separate AFT Committee on Political Education (COPE) is the way members can make a contribution to support candidates that the union leaders have vetted and believe are strong supporters of quality public higher education. The Legislative Committee of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT meets to decide if they will recommend any candidates to the Executive Council. Representation fees/union dues and COPE funds are completely separate. Full members (who are US citizens or permanent residents in the USA) may make voluntary contributions to the AFT COPE.
If employees do not become full union members, the employer tends to assume that these employees are anti-union, which may not be the case. Fairly often employees have been led to believe that they are automatically members of the union, but they are not. They are automatically in the bargaining unit via accepting employment and pay the representation fee as a matter of New Jersey labor law. Employees become full members only by signing a membership form. Joining the union indicates that the employee values having a voice in the workplace and realizes that we can work together as union members to defend professional working conditions and advocate for quality higher education. The larger structural issues of employment can be addressed more effectively via the union. You're not alone!
Union leadership consists of Rutgers faculty union members who run for election. In other words, faculty advocate for themselves as professionals by working collaboratively through a representative form of self-governance. The Executive Council meets monthly to make decisions.
The faculty at Rutgers having been advocating for quality higher education since 1970. Each year brings new challenges and the need for faculty to organize themselves in a new ways. Postdocs can plug into the continuity of the efforts of the tenured/tenure-track faculty and other unionized faculty, such as the non-tenure-track full-time faculty (instructors and research faculty), part-time lecturers (adjuncts), and graduate student employees (Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants), while also having a way to articulate their own postdoc-specific issues.
Membership is empowerment for fairness and improvements. Claim your right to access to this professional empowerment toolkit. It allows you access to a team of union leaders and staff who are available to help individuals and the whole group. As junior researchers, postdocs are learning new research methods and transitioning beyond graduate student status. Union membership is like having an "employment laboratory" experience.
See the Join page to see the others in the various union bargaining units. Postdocs are not alone. Postdocs can articulate their own issues, while having fellow union members in all the academic ranks with whom they can work in solidarity under the same "umbrella" of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT.
The top five reasons Postdocs join Rutgers AAUP-AFT are:
Advocacy and Protections: Rutgers AAUP-AFT has a proven record of accomplishments in winning higher salaries and better working conditions for all who do research and teach at Rutgers. Unlike most universities where postdocs are not represented by a union, postdocs at Rutgers are represented by the same union that represents the tenured faculty, expanding the sense of solidarity and community.
Professional Salaries: Rutgers postdocs receive salaries and annual increases commensurate with the needs of rising professionals in their fields. Especially in times of austerity, access to collective bargaining through the union provides the greatest means to advocate for higher salaries.
Visa Help: International scholars make up the majority of postdocs yet do not have a voice in the US legal and political system as individuals, but as members of the union postdocs can be heard. Our union has won a contractual commitment from management to provide greater visa assistance to help navigate the non-immigrant visa process and the immigration process for international postdocs.
Work-Family Fairness: Rutgers’ postdocs are covered under the same NJ state health care statutes as our faculty. Postdocs are eligible for family leave and have clarity on their rights and benefits through our union contract.
Professional Development: Postdoctoral researchers and scholars deserve assistance to advance their careers, and the union provides regular workshops and skills sharing opportunities. Throughout the year, the union hosts and co-sponsors free events to help develop career paths as well as community among postdocs in different fields.