What is collective bargaining and how is it different from what we have now?

Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer.  With collective bargaining, elected postdoc representatives will survey postdocs to determine their priorities and will then negotiate a contract with the administration.  They can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.  Postdocs can decide what is best for themselves, their families, and their research, and bring these issues to the table.  Collective bargaining is also democratic process.   Postdocs will have an opportunity to democratically approve the agreement that the bargaining team reaches with the Dalhousie University before it becomes a binding contract.

A contract is enforced by a grievance procedure, ending with binding arbitration before a neutral third party, rather than Dalhousie's administration, as is currently the case. Without a contract, the Administration has the unilateral ability to decide and change wages, benefits, and working conditions – and has done so in the past without notice.

For example, the administration imposed a health plan that all postdocs had to pay for – with no consultation on the scope of the plan, its costs or its structure.  Under collective bargaining, postdocs would be able to negotiate the terms and conditions of a health plan that suits them.

Many postdocs have come to agreements about the terms and conditions of their appointment when they accepted their positions, only to have them suddenly change without notice.

That is the problem with unilaterally imposed policies – they can always be changed.  A collective agreement has to be bargained.

How do postdocs become unionized?

In Nova Scotia determines the process for unionization.  There are several steps involved:

  1. A percentage of not less than 50% of postdocs sign union membership cards.  The PSAC will keep these cards absolutely confidential in order to protect the privacy of postdocs.

  2. After a significant number of cards are signed, an application for certification is submitted to the Nova Scotia Labour Board.

  3. One week later, the Nova Scotia Labour Board will hold a secret ballot vote on campus.  In order for the union to be successful, fifty percent plus one of the employees who cast a ballot must vote in favour of the union.

If I sign the membership card, am I automatically a part of PSAC?

The card is an application for membership in the union.  If you sign a card under the aegis of an organizing drive, you are able to participate in some of the decision making structures of the union, including attending general membership meetings and sitting on committees.

Signing a card is also the first stage of the certification process.  By law, the Union needs signed cards from at least 40% of all postdocs in order to hold a vote on unionization.

We are trying to sign enough cards so as to have a clear and absolute majority.  The Labour Board will then conduct a secret ballot vote and will determine whether a majority of postdocs want to unionize.   In order for the union to be successful, fifty percent plus one of the employees who cast a ballot must vote in favour of the union.  If the vote is successful, the process of collective bargaining will begin.

I am an international scholar.  Can I join the union?

Yes.  International scholars have the same rights to join and participate as Canadian citizens.