How do we form a union?

Our first step is just to talk to as many of our colleagues as we can to find out what is most important to them and whether they support the idea. Once we're confident there's sufficient interest, we'll ask people to sign union authorization cards. If a majority of postdocs sign cards, we have a union, and OHSU has to bargain a contract with us! OHSU may try to challenge our legal status as employees as they did with the graduate researchers, but at other universities, postdoc unions have prevailed when this happened.

Keep in mind, the cards are confidential--no one in OHSU management will ever be told who did or didn't sign, just how many people chose to.

What will be in the contract?

It will be up to us to decide what to prioritize in contract negotiations. There are already unionized workers at OHSU, and we can learn from what’s worked well for them, but we won't automatically inherit their contract. Once our union is certified, we'll elect a team of postdocs to negotiate with the OHSU, with the help of experienced AFSCME staff. The bargaining team will survey all postdocs before developing initial proposals, and we'll all get to vote on any contract before it is approved.

Could we lose things we have now? Like flexible scheduling?

Management will sometimes try to scare people with ideas like this, but probably not. Remember, we'll be the ones negotiating our contract and voting on it, so why would we ever agree to a contract that takes away things we like? Would you vote for that? Legally, the status quo is the starting point for bargaining, and a contract gives us a chance to codify things we like currently, so management can't change them unilaterally as they could easily do now without a union. There are very few, if any, examples of union contracts for academic workers that require people to punch in and out on specific schedules--that just wouldn't make sense for the work we do.

What kind of pushback are we expecting? Will my PI be upset?

Your PI will never know whether you support the union unless you tell them.

Oregon law forbids public employers like OHSU from engaging in most of the more strenuous anti-union campaign tactics that are used to intimidate workers in the private sector. We don’t expect people to be forced to attend anti-union presentations or to be disciplined for supporting the campaign. Still, not everyone in management will be happy about a campaign that will require them to share decision-making power with us. Keep an eye out for misinformation, which might come in the form of expressions of concern about changes postdocs might see if we form a union (i.e. “we just don’t know whether we’ll still be allowed to offer the same flexible schedules anymore”). Subtle bribes or threats are common in public sector organizing campaigns. If you hear about this kind of activity, or experience any kind of retaliatory actions, let us know.  AFSCME has attorneys on staff to protect us from illegal anti-union tactics.

Our work is grant funded. Can a union still negotiate for better wages and job security?

Yes! Lots of grant-funded workers have unions. The bottom line is, OHSU is our employer, not our grantors. If we negotiate to codify higher rates of pay or better benefits for postdocs, the cost of those improvements will have to be covered by OHSU and/or incorporated into future grant applications by PIs just as any change in compensation would be without a union.

I'm on a stipend. Will I still be in the union?

We think so. Other employees who receive stipends (like the graduate researchers) have been able to organize unions. Ultimately it will be up to the Employment Relations Board to decide, but our intent is to include all postdocs who receive paychecks from OHSU, whether they receive stipends or are paid hourly.

What about union dues?

Every union has dues to cover the cost of operations, and dues with AFSCME, the union we've partnered with, are 1.27%. But, no one will pay any dues until we have voted to accept our first contract. Most people will not vote for a contract that doesn't increase wages enough to cover dues. More members mean more power and bigger improvements, but no one can be compelled to join our union or pay dues if they don't think it's worth it.

How can I get involved?

We're glad you asked! The more people who help with this process, the sooner we can get our union certified and negotiate a contract. Right now, we're looking for folks who can help with the efforts to reach out to other postdocs, hear their stories and learn about their issues, and discuss with them how a union might help improve things for us at OHSU. At the point we're ready to collect signatures, we'll need a lot of help getting all those cards signed! If you'd like to help out, or just learn more, you can reach out to us at the email address below.

[email protected]