Frequently Asked Questions

To view our strike authorization vote and strike FAQ, click here.

General Questions

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What is Sinai Postdoctoral Organizing Committee-UAW?

We are postdoctoral researchers forming a union in order to improve our research and working conditions at Mount Sinai. Our work as postdocs not only drives the research mission at Mount Sinai, but also produces scientific and medical knowledge that can benefit the whole world. While we work across many subfields,  our dedication to research unites us all.

By forming a postdoc union, we can build a stronger, democratic voice for researchers at Mount Sinai, with more power to negotiate for improvements and to secure our rights and working conditions into a legally-binding contract.

Forming a union with the United Auto Workers (UAW) in particular means joining tens of thousands of researchers and other higher education employees who are already part of the UAW, including postdoctoral researchers at Columbia University, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts, University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and University of Washington. By working together with these and other academic unions across the country, we can also build political power beyond Mount Sinai to impact funding, visa, and other policies at the national, state, and local levels that shape our experience in Academia and as scientists.

Why are postdoctoral researchers forming a union at Mount Sinai?

Forming a union with collective bargaining rights is the only way we have the power to negotiate on equal footing with the Mount Sinai administration and secure agreements in a legally-binding contract. Forming a union and joining with tens of thousands of other UAW academic workers will help us have a stronger voice on key policy decisions made outside the institute that affect us as researchers, such as federal funding for scientific research and federal rules affecting visa and immigrant issues.  

By joining with unionized academic workers nationwide we hope to make changes that will create more positive work environments for future postdocs and improve career pathways for future scientists in the US and beyond.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process, protected by US law, that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. 

Under collective bargaining, Mount Sinai postdoctoral researchers would elect representatives to negotiate on equal footing with the Mount Sinai Administration and put the terms of our employment into a legally binding contract. Through collective bargaining, postdoc and other academic workers in the UAW have successfully negotiated improved wages and benefits, stronger protections against discrimination and harassment, expanded family-friendly benefits like paid leave and childcare subsidies, and other important provisions.

Why and how did we choose the UAW?

Postdocs began to organize during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to a lack of sufficient support for some of the most vulnerable members of the researcher community, including parents and those of us on visas. While we were able to win some improvements, we realized that we could make even more progress by negotiating as equals with Mount Sinai over our working conditions. In the Summer of 2021, a group of Mount Sinai postdocs reached out to the unionized postdocs in UAW Local 4100 at Columbia University to learn from their experience forming their union and negotiating a first contract. Since then, we have been working with the UAW to build a representative campaign to establish our own union at Mount Sinai.

The UAW represents more than 100,000 academic workers across the United States, including more postdocs and graduate student employees than any other union. In the last eight years alone over 40,000 academic workers around the country have chosen to become part of the UAW, nearly 10,000 of them from the New York City area.

Read more here about UAW success helping academic workers negotiate concrete improvements to wages, benefits and workplace rights.

The UAW has particular experience with helping to negotiate and enforce strong postdoc contracts. Most recently, postdocs and associate researchers at Columbia University in NYC voted by 68% to form their union with the UAW and ratified their first contract by 99% with a majority participating. UConn postdocs overwhelmingly approved their first contract in 2020.  Postdocs at the University of Washington voted by an overwhelming 89% percent to form their union with the UAW. The 7,000 postdocs at the ten University of California campuses approved their first UAW contract in 2010, and those at the University of Massachusetts approved their first contract in 2012.

Last year, the University of California recognized Student Researchers United-UAW as representative for more than 17,000 workers, after a supermajority of UC student researchers signed cards selecting SRU-UAW as their union. In NYC, 3,000 Columbia graduate student employees voted by an overwhelming 72% to join the UAW and recently approved their first union contract by 97.6%.  In addition to drawing on the UAW’s wide experience bargaining contracts with academic administrations, we can exercise a stronger political voice through the UAW.  With active members at more than 45 major campuses across the US, the UAW has become a strong advocate on policy issues that matter to us as academics, such as federal support for science funding and enhancing the rights of international research scientists.

What is the difference between the Postdoctoral Executive Committee (PEC) and a union?

Both a strong union and a postdoc organization can play a critical role in improving the lives of Mount Sinai postdocs. While PEC is an institute-sponsored and supported committee that provides important opportunities for postdocs to participate in numerous social and career development opportunities, as well as advocacy efforts, it is not an alternative to a union.

While PEC can make recommendations to the institution on behalf of postdocs, it cannot engage in collective bargaining. Unions and associations like PEC often work together at academic institutions where both exist.

Once we form a union, how do we participate in the process?

Mount Sinai postdoctoral researchers make up our union. After SPOC-UAW has been recognized by Mount Sinai, we will start the process of negotiating a contract with the administration:

  • We elect a bargaining committee from among Mount Sinai researchers;
  • Based on surveys we have filled out, the committee will develop initial bargaining goals; we vote to ratify these goals;
  • The committee will meet with Mount Sinai administration representatives to negotiate in pursuit of our bargaining goals;
  • When our committee has negotiated a tentative agreement with the institute they feel they can recommend, researchers will vote whether to ratify it as our first contract;
  • The bargaining committee will be aided throughout by experienced negotiators and other UAW representatives;
  • After the contract is ratified, the membership will elect representatives who help run the Local Union and ensure that Mount Sinai does not violate the terms of the contract, and represent members with grievances and other workplace issues.
Can the union guarantee any specific improvements?

Postdocs make up our union and will democratically prioritize which improvements to pursue in contract negotiations. With a union, Postdocs will negotiate as equals with the administration for the changes we want to make.

A contract will legally secure those improvements against unilateral changes by the administration. Currently, the administration can change policies and benefits unilaterally, without any obligation to consult those affected.

With a union, we will vote on our contract. If we are unsatisfied with a contract, we can vote against it and go back to the negotiating table to work out a better agreement.

What improvements have Postdocs bargained for at other universities?

Postdocs have negotiated improvements to their salaries, benefits, family-friendly policies, and workspace and materials; have established fair processes for addressing sexual and other forms of discrimination and harassment; and have negotiated greater job stability and protections for international researchers. 

Read more about what Postdocs have won at other universities:

What are union dues and when would we start paying?

Membership dues are important because they provide the resources necessary for effective representation.  In the UAW, we do not pay dues until we have gone through the bargaining process and voted democratically to approve our first contract.   Dues are critical for providing us with independent resources that are not controlled by the institute: we use them to ensure we have appropriate legal, bargaining, community and staff support to represent all postdoctoral researchers. UAW membership dues are currently 1.44% of gross monthly income and can only be increased by membership action (the membership in a few local unions, for example, have voted to increase dues above 1.44% to have more resources).

No one can be required to become a member of the Union after we have a contract. In most contracts, since everyone in the bargaining unit must receive all of the benefits of the contract, non-members are generally required to pay a comparable “fair share” fee, so the cost of representation is shared equally. The inclusion of a similar provision at Mount Sinai would be something we decide as part of our bargaining agenda, would be subject to negotiation with Mount Sinai, and contingent on ratification as part of our contract.

Most academic worker unions have such a provision in the contract because it means we have more power and more resources available to enforce our rights under our contract,  campaign for the best possible future contracts with the administration and help other academic workers form their own unions. Under the UAW, there is a one-time initiation fee, which ranges from $10 to $50 and is determined democratically in local union bylaws approved by members.

The value of increased wages and benefits in the first contract typically outweighs the cost of dues, often leading to overwhelming majority approval of those agreements. For example, the Columbia postdocs went from having the lowest minimum salaries for postdocs in NYC to the highest in the first year of their contract, an increase of between 14.5% to 20%, along with guaranteed annual increases and other improvements. The base wages for UC postdocs have gone up an average of 45% since they ratified their first contract in 2010.

Where would our union dues go?

It takes resources to have a strong union, from the earliest stages of forming a union for the first time, to bargaining and campaigning for the first contract, to enforcing rights under an existing contract, and advocating on policy issues that matter to membership.  Dues provide those resources.  See below for more information.  

Dues generally cover all of the day to day costs to have a strong union, including paying for legal representation, staffing, rent, equipment, and supplies.  

Most of the day-to-day work enforcing the contract and representing our membership is provided by the Local Union.  Under the UAW Constitution, the Local Union automatically keeps 27% of dues money to support its expenses: staffing for representation, rent, equipment, supplies, etc.  The rest of the dues is allocated to the International Union’s General Fund (26%), Strike and Defense Fund (44%), and Community Action Program (CAP) (3%).  Mount Sinai postdocs would be supported by these funds as described 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 portion of dues retained by the local union is roughly 37%.

For some great examples of UAW local union helping workers defend their rights, see this summary of successful grievance handling at the University of Washington, or these stories about unionized postdocs fighting pregnancy discrimination at the University of California, or how graduate assistants at UConn took on sexual harassment.

The portion of dues allocated to the International Union would support Mount Sinai postdoctoral researchers in the following ways:

  • Technical experts to help negotiate on equal terms with Mount Sinai:
    • Health insurance experts who can take on the University’s consultants in order to pursue the best benefits for the best price
    • Researchers who can help analyze institute finances.
    • Legal advice where necessary
    • Experienced negotiators to help achieve our goals, both at the bargaining table and in terms of developing an overall campaign to win a strong contract
  • Support for new organizing campaigns (for example, the resources supporting Sinai Postdoctoral Organizing Committee-UAW come from existing UAW members’ dues)
  • Political action: 3 percent of dues go toward the UAW Community Action Program (CAP), which supports progressive community and 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 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 to the UAW Voluntary Community Action Program or V-CAP, which is separate from, and in addition to, dues.]
Would I be included in the postdoc union?

Sinai Postdoctoral Organizing Committee-UAW (SPOC-UAW) seeks to represent anyone who holds a postdoctoral fellow position at Mount Sinai. The union includes all Mount Sinai employees in this position.

International Researchers

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How can international postdocs benefit from joining the UAW?

With roughly 100,000 academic workers, the UAW has become a powerful organization advocating  to improve conditions for international scholars and students. For years the UAW has fought hard to ensure that the contributions of guest workers are elevated and that the terms and conditions of their employment are improved. Recently the UAW helped lead the fight against Executive Orders issued by former President Trump that targeted international scholars and students.

In October of 2020, UAW Academic Workers mobilized against a proposed rule by ICE to shorten visa stays for international scholars; thousands of public comments were submitted, including by the President of the UAW International. In July of 2020, thanks to direct action by UAW Academic Workers across the country, in addition to efforts by allies at universities and in government, ICE backed down from its directive to deport international students taking online classes due to COVID-19. In 2017, the UAW International filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case challenging the Trump administration’s travel ban. The UAW also helped lead the fight to enhance the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program as an important path for international student workers to work in the US after completion of their PhD.

UAW academic unions also provide more resources for researchers on visas at the local level. Columbia University postdocs have used their union to fight for international researchers who could not return to the US during the COVID-19 pandemic to be able to work remotely and, more recently, put pressure on the Columbia administration and engaged allies in Congress to support researchers stranded abroad.

What are the rights of international postdocs to join the union?

International postdocs and researchers have the same legal right to join a union as US citizens. International researchers have been instrumental in organizing and running the University of California postdocs union (UAW Local 5810) and the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers (CPW-UAW Local 4100) Unionization can result in protections that are especially valuable for international academic employees.

Potential Impacts

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How long will it take to bargain our first contract with Mount Sinai?

The length of time necessary to negotiate a strong first contract has depended on the strength of the campaign and the willingness of the employer to bargain in good faith.  Sinai could help ensure a timely process by agreeing on a fair and efficient timeframe with regularly scheduled bargaining sessions and a strong commitment to reaching a fair agreement. 

At other major research institutions where postdocs have formed unions, researchers have been able to negotiate significant improvements despite facing opposition from their employers. Postdocs at Columbia University, University of Connecticut, University of Washington, and University of California negotiated for 16 months, 13 months, 13 months, and 18 months respectively. But it is also possible to negotiate much more quickly.  For example, with a serious commitment to reach a fair agreement by the administration, 4,000 student employees at the University of Washington negotiated their first contract in just under two months.

I heard an administrator say If we unionize and negotiate pay increases, we might have fewer jobs overall. Is that true?

We have not seen this happen at other institutions. Because all union decisions will be made by postdocs, we will collectively decide what to ask for in bargaining at Mount Sinai and, ultimately, vote whether to approve any agreement as a contract.

And as a union we will have greater access to Mount Sinai’s financial information that affects postdoctoral researchers, which will make it possible for us to be well-informed and conscientious as we engage in bargaining.  

Both the postdocs and the administration have to agree on a contract and we all share an interest in preserving the quality of research happening at Mount Sinai. Collective bargaining simply means we can negotiate on equal footing in order to hold Mount Sinai more accountable to do the best it can do.

Will forming a union cause Mount Sinai to reduce benefits or lower pay?

Once a union is formed, Mount Sinai cannot unilaterally alter any terms and conditions of employment—including pay and benefits. Instead, changes to pay and benefits and other terms and conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining, through which Mount Sinai administrators must negotiate in good faith with Postdocs, and Postdocs will democratically approve a binding, enforceable contract containing those terms and conditions.

Does everyone in a union have to make the same amount?

No UAW union for academic workers has negotiated a contract that requires all covered employees to make the same amount. And because we as postdocs will make our own decisions about our contract we would likely not negotiate for or vote to approve a contract that requires all postdocs to be paid the same. As an example, we could propose a wage structure like the one that postdocs at the University of California bargained that includes:

1) A minimum salary that exceeds the NIH base wage;

2) Guaranteed annual wage increases;

3) The right of PIs to pay above the scale; and

4) Strong enforcement provisions that enable us to grieve through the union if we don’t receive contractual pay increases.

Can departments and PIs voluntarily pay above negotiated pay rates?

Postdocs will democratically decide how we want to negotiate pay, but no academic worker contract has ever stipulated that all workers must be paid the same. Instead, UAW academic contracts have established minimum rights on different aspects of researcher working conditions, while preserving the ability of PIs and postdocs to negotiate above those minimums.  At both Columbia and the University of California, for example, postdocs negotiated pay scales that guarantee minimum salaries but stipulate that the institution may pay more.

Where will the money come from for pay increases?

Currently, the Mount Sinai administration determines Postdoctoral Fellow pay rates and benefits unilaterally, and those rates – as well as projected increases – can be factored into grant proposals to agencies like the NIH. With collective bargaining, we would negotiate as equals with Mount Sinai over improvements to our pay rates, which would continue to be factored into grant proposals. Postdocs at Columbia University and the University of Washington, as well as at the University of California, have used this process to negotiate guaranteed annual increases to their pay rates through collective bargaining.

Will forming a union limit Postdocs’ direct relationship with supervisors?

As a union, postdocs will be negotiating with the institute, not with our PIs and supervisors, because it is the policies of the institute that define the conditions of our employment. Moreover, postdocs will set the bargaining agenda and decide what improvements to prioritize in collective bargaining.

As such, a union contract would only create limitations if postdocs democratically choose to impose them. And forming a union would mean that the Mount Sinai administration would not be able to make unilateral changes to working conditions that postdocs choose to preserve.

In addition, many PIs appreciate working with unionized researchers, because a union contract means PIs do not have to negotiate every term and condition of employment (from wages to health care to leave to childcare to non-discrimination protections to vacation to appointment letter terms, etc) and instead can focus on their research.

Will we have to strike?

With a union, all union decisions – including the decision about whether or not to strike – will be made democratically by postdoctoral researchers. With a union, postdocs  will collectively decide what to ask for in bargaining and whether or not a strike is necessary.

A strike is a very powerful tool for unionized workers, but a strike would only occur if union members decide a strike is necessary. The decision to strike is made collectively; under the UAW Constitution, two-thirds of workers participating in a strike authorization vote must vote yes in order to authorize a strike. While a strike is most effective if we all participate, it is an individual decision whether or not to do so.

While strikes are rare, it is not uncommon that workers decide it is necessary to prepare for a possible strike in order to convince a university to reach a reasonable agreement during negotiations. At the University of California, for example, the academic researcher union in UAW Local 5810, reached an agreement with the administration after a majority of researchers voted to authorize a strike. At New York University, the graduate employee union GSOC-UAW Local 2110 reached an agreement with NYU after a majority of graduate employees authorized the bargaining committee to call a strike if they deemed one necessary. Columbia postdocs won their first contract shortly after hundreds of postdocs informed the administration that they would start preparing for a strike authorization vote if Columbia did not make greater progress in contract negotiations.

Does the Mount Sinai administration oppose Postdocs forming a union?

It appears that they do, because although Sinai has urged postdocs to “collect, investigate, and understand the facts,” they have not provided any references to support their claims, and have suggested that collective bargaining may “jeopardize” the administration’s relationship with postdocs. Nor have they mentioned examples of the many improvements negotiated by tens of thousands of postdocs through collective bargaining around the country, or the fact that our petition for a union election was supported by 80% of postdocs at Mount Sinai.