The Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, Bernard Boudreau, has issued a letter to Postdoctoral Researchers.That letter is useful in so far as it recommends that Postdocs give serious consideration to forming a union.Unfortunately, Dean Boudreau’s letter is also full of half-truths and misnomers.
Postdocs at Dalhousie Can Do Better
It is a simple fact that Postdoctoral Researchers at Western, at Queens, and at Memorial University have benefited by unionizing with the Public Service Alliance of Canada.In addition to negotiating base salaries, Postdocs at each of those universities now enjoy a benefits package that is superior to ours.Postdocs at Western, Queens and Memorial also have:
Good and enforceable contracts that deal with academic freedom and intellectual property;
Maternal, paternal, and religious holiday leave benefits far superior to the ones we have;
Clearly laid out and contractually binding terms and conditions dealing with work hours and responsibilities;
Access to free legal counsel in the event that things go wrong;
The power to negotiate other improvements.
None of these benefits or terms were simply offered by university administrations – it took unionization for this to happen.Clearly, we can – and must – do better.
Dalhousie’s Reputation is Your Reputation
To be sure, having the opportunity to go to conferences and present on our work is absolutely essential to the development and career of any researcher, Postdoc or not.At the same time, when Dalhousie Postdocs go to a conference and present on their research, they make Dalhousie look good too.The $500.00 of support that Dalhousie offers to us so that we can attend a conference is at least as much a benefit to the institution as it is to us.Providing some modicum of support to enable Postdocs to go to conferences just makes sense.
Your Benefits Package Doesn’t Stack Up – By Unionizing You Can Negotiate a Better Package!
To put it plainly, the benefits package that Dalhousie began offering to Postdocs in 2011 is prohibitive and sub-par.Not only are Postdocs required to pay 50% of the premiums associated with the health package, they are also required to pay an additional 20% of the cost of filling a prescription.If Postdocs choose to enroll in the optional dental plan, then they pay 100% of the associated premiums, which are prohibitively expensive. And the coverages provided for those premiums are not overly generous.
A detailed comparison of the benefits package available to Postdocs at Dalhousie and Postdocs at Queens, Western, and Memorial, where Postdocs have all chosen to unionize through the PSAC can be found on our website.
You Control Your Union!
Before any negotiations begin, we (Postdocs at Dalhousie) will meet, set priorities, and elect members of OUR bargaining team. Without question, the PSAC will provide us with at least one expert and experienced negotiator, a person who understands our sector and the particular challenges Postdocs face, both at Dalhousie and across the Country. But that negotiator will be required to operate within the parameters and according to the priorities that we set.For us, collective bargaining will be just that, a collective and democratic process. And before any agreement is signed, we will have an opportunity to vote on whether or not we want to accept it. In other words, we control our union.
Only Better, Never Worse
The Public Service Alliance of Canada has never bargained or signed a collective agreement that leaves members worse off. If you are earning above the level at which base salaries will be set, you will still earn above that level after a collective agreement is negotiated.
A Better Workplace
A collective agreement will help to set-out and clarify everyone’s expectations around the workplace. When Postdocs are victimized or mistreated by their supervisors or PIs, a collective agreement provides us with an avenue via which to lodge complaints without the fear of either recriminations or of being ignored.On the other hand, if your relationship with your supervisor or PI is excellent, a collective agreement does absolutely nothing to undermine that.In choosing to unionize we are simply purchasing a kind of workplace insurance.