There is strength in numbers.  Unfortunately, even though our interests lie in joining a union, you are likely to hear a whole bunch of things about why unionization is not in your best interests.  Here we explore the myths and the facts of postdocs and unionization.

 

Myth: If we unionize, we give up control.

Fact: We set priorities, we have more control. 

The union membership elects its own representatives to a bargaining team, which negotiates collective agreements with the University.  The PSAC provides support and legal expertise for the bargaining process, but not determine what should and should not be part of any agreement. You and your colleagues (i.e., all of the PDFs at Dalhousie) have a chance to vote on any contract that is negotiated. Keep in mind that across the country when postdocs have unionized, they were able to negotiate a collective agreement that has improved their working and earning conditions. 

 

MYTH: PDFs who have negotiated better than average salaries and benefits packages would see their salaries and benefits packaged lowered.

FACT: Your collective agreement set baseline levels, not limit your freedom to do better.

You are not precluded from negotiating individual arrangements with your supervisors/PI. Instead, by unionizing and negotiating a collective agreement, you work to improve minimum salary and working conditions, and to thereby set baseline conditions for every postdoc. Postdocs are still free to make individual arrangements with their supervisors as long as those arrangements do not directly contradict the collective agreement we negotiated with the university.

This situation is similar to faculty members, who bargain collectively with the Dalhousie University to establish base salaries, benefits, and leaves, but also have the freedom to individually negotiate the terms of their appointment.

 

MYTH: Having to pay union dues will hurt your bottom-line.

FACT: Union dues are tax deductible, and are more than off-set by improvements to your contract.

The dues rates for all PSAC members is 1.6% of gross monthly income, and union dues are 100% tax deductible.  Dues are voted on by the entire membership.  As with every other aspect of the unionization process, postdocs get a say in how dues work.  It is not something imposed upon us.

Note that dues were not collected until our first contract was negotiated and then approved (ratified) by secret ballot by postdoctoral fellows.

Dues support legal, educational, organizing, negotiating and other representational services.  Members decide on how dues are spent by voting on the union’s budget.  This ensures that the money collected through union dues is spent according to our priorities.

It is important to know that PSAC has NEVER signed a collective agreement that has put its members worse off financially after paying dues.

 

MYTH: Because the nature of your relationship with the University would change to being an employee, there would be deductions directly from your stipend for income tax, CPP, and EI priorities.

FACT: Unionization does not suddenly change how postdoc income is categorized, or what deductions are taken from our paychecks.

 

MYTH: If you an international postdoctoral fellow, you are not eligible to join a union.

FACT: Any postdoctoral researcher is eligible to join a union.

Whether you are from Canada, or working in Canada under a visa, you have the same right to join a union. In other words, if you are a post doctoral researcher at Dalhousie, you are an employee of Dalhousie, and are eligible to join a union.  Your status in Canada will not be affected. And remember, your privacy is protected - no one but the union and the Labour Review Board knows your identity.

 

MYTH: University policies dealing with Academic Freedom, Intellectual Property already protect us.

FACT: Before, we had no enforceable rights.

Unless we have specific contractual provisions providing for academic freedom, rights to intellectual property etc., we have no enforceable rights and are subject to any changes in policy, regardless of how arbitrary they may be.

 

MYTH: A Union will create tension.

FACT: Relations have improved along with working conditions

While the University initially opposed our decision to organize into a union (together with some of our supervisors/PIs), organizing allowed us to clarify issues and relationships that were not properly defined, and outline appropriate forms of interaction. By unionizing we ease tensions while protecting ourselves against unfair practices.