Postdocs of the World Unite

Research scientists in California are now unionized. This idea surfaces in academia from time to time, but usually doesn’t get much support. The reason is not because mid-level scientists are satisfied with their pay or situation. Being a postdoc is incredibly frustrating: it pays less than comparable industry positions and, for some reason, it’s been decided that uprooting postdocs every 2-3 years is a good idea. My own field is a fairly reasonable one for non-tenured scientists — the pay scale gets set by the big institutions, the big fellowships and NASA so there’s not much variation on that score. But in other fields — which I won’t mention by name — researchers are sometimes paid well below the recommendations of funding agencies. I’ve known more than a couple that were doing faculty level work for just about graduate student salaries.

However, unionization remains on the back burner for most scientists. For one thing, most people understand that science funding is limited. If you pay some researchers more, that means fewer can be hired. For a second thing, strikes would be massively self-defeating. If you’re not publishing, you’re not getting grants. A state-wide research strike would be death to California research associates. Not that California is any stranger to economic self-destruction, of course. But I really don’t see this becoming a nationwide trend, especially given the amount of research that goes in in Right to Work states.

A few things to note. Less than half of the researchers voted to join the union. The Democrats are trying to go national with this model, so that shops can be unionized by motivated minorities. The second thing to note is that the LA Times “news” article completely carries the union line, with almost no skepticism.