Graduate student workers and postdoctoral scholars at California Institute of Technology have voted to unionize in two separate bargaining units, representing roughly 2,000 employees altogether.
The grad workers, who serve in teaching and research positions at Caltech, voted 799 to 246 to unionize, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The postdocs—including those in teaching and research positions as well as Postdoctoral Scholar Fellowship Trainees—voted 240 to 50, the NLRB said.
In-person voting took place Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, and limited mail-in voting occurred through Wednesday. The bargaining units will form a combined union called Caltech Grad Researchers and Postdocs United. It’s part of the United Autoworkers, which has been a major organizer of student workers across the country.
Jasmine Emtage—a union organizer and grad student who works as a teaching assistant, researcher and undergraduate student mentor—said that greater protection against abuse and harassment is among the main reasons she’s heard for workers wanting a union. She said many of the concerns relate to faculty members calling at all hours or holding workers back from graduating to perhaps get more years of work out of them. A union contract, she said, might include timelines for Caltech to deal with allegations and provisions to separate the alleged abuser from their accuser.
Emtage also mentioned that there are demands for better wages, health care and leave provisions.
“We’re really proud to have won our union, and we’re looking forward to bargaining a really strong first contract with Caltech and hopefully beginning negotiations as soon as possible with the intent of protecting those who are the most vulnerable amongst us,” she said.
The university didn’t provide Inside Higher Ed an interview Thursday. In a statement issued Wednesday, the president and provost said, “Caltech will continue its commitment to a supportive and inclusive research, education, and training environment for all.”
Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, said in a Thursday news release, “It’s time to end the low pay, job insecurity, harassment and discrimination that has run rampant in higher education. These workers are leading the way by winning their union.”
Last year, 26 new bargaining units representing over 40,000 grad students, postdocs or researchers officially formed nationwide. That’s according to data from the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York.