Another victory for the academic labor movement occurred this week in Massachusetts. At the three campuses of UMass, including the flagship research institution at Amherst, postdoctoral researchers won union recognition.
Teaching, research, and graduate assistants at UMass unionized years ago. Postdocs add a few hundred more academic workers to union ranks. In addition to UMass, postdocs are unionized in the University of California System, including at Berkeley and UCLA, as well as Rutgers. Teaching assistants in the UC System are also unionized, with research assistants likely organizing soon. Likewise, teaching assistants, research assistants at Rutgers are unionized.
The postdocs at UMass organized with the UAW as PRO/UAW, the Postdoctoral Researchers Organization. The UAW, originally begun as a union of autoworkers which now includes tens of thousands of professional workers including academics, represents teaching and research assistants in the University of California System and at the University of Washington. The postdocs, teaching, and research assistants at Rutgers are organized with AFT.
This victory for academics represents the latest win for workers who make universities work. Nationwide, nearly 50,000 teaching assistants, research assistants, and postdocs have formed unions to address the challenges academic workers face. In addition, adjuncts, lecturers, and tenured and tenure-track faculty have unionized at dozens of campuses, representing tens of thousands of more academic workers.
AFT, the national affiliate union of the TAA, represents the bulk of these academic workers. AFT has “jurisdiction,” or the agreed-upon right to organize among national unions, in academic workers in most states, including Wisconsin. The UAW has won unionization campaigns in some public sector universities among grad assistants and postdocs. While private university graduate student workers lost the right to unionize in a 2004 decision by the Bush National Labor Relations Board, a growing number of public university grads, postdocs, and faculty have the right to unionize. The AFT mostly has jurisdiction with public universities while the UAW mostly has jurisdiction in private universities.