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Post docs at U of G to hold union vote on Monday

United Steel Workers has been chosen to represent post docs if the vote is successful
20160202 University of Guelph KA
University of Guelph. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday file photo

Postdoctoral researchers at University of Guelph will vote next week on whether they will collectively join a union, which the local organizer says would be beneficial to both post docs and the university.

Post docs at the university have finished their PhD but have not found permanent work in academia and work in a non-unionized environment, said Hannah Harrison, herself a post doc and founder of the U of G Post Doc Society. 

“It’s kind of a weird time because you’re no longer a student and no longer benefit from a lot of the infrastructure that is built up around students and here at the University of Guelph,” said Harrison. “There are some really excellent, strong systems in place to support students all the way up to their PhD, but you’re also not faculty and you’re not permanent.”

Harrison said often there is training or programs that are available to PhD students and to faculty, but not offered to post docs.

“We are kind of an invisible group where often there is only a handful of us in a given department, so people don’t really know who we are and what our needs are,” she said. “We are working professionals, we have PhDs. By all measure we are just as qualified for any faculty job as any new faculty member, the only difference is that title and the benefits and supports that come with it.”

Recently, the United Steel Workers (USW) issued cards to the more than 150 post docs on campus as the first step in the process of voting whether or not to join the union, while the society ran an education campaign directed at post docs.

“That card just said ‘I am interested in having a vote’ and it doesn’t say yes or no,” said Harrison.

To continue the process more than 40 per cent of respondents needed to vote in favour of holding a vote. Harrison said more than 50 per cent of respondents voted last week in favour of it.

Unions represent post docs at some other universities in Ontario and across Canada, like Queens and Western.

Harrison said those unions and the supports they bring through a collective agreement have made those universities a more attractive place for people to pursue a post doc and if a union is formed here U of G could also benefit.

“Though I think the university (of Guelph) wants to be a place where post doctoral training is really excellent, so far they haven’t really gotten to a place where it developed a lot of strong systems or programs in place specific to the post doc group,” said Harrison.

U of G declined an opportunity to comment.

In the next step post docs will vote next week on whether to actually join the the union, a vote that requires 50 per cent plus one.

“From noon on Monday to noon on Wednesday we will have an online vote. People who were current post docs as of March 30 will be able to vote in that and it’s just a yes or no vote,” said Harrison.

She said the benefits of unionizing will not just benefit post docs, but also the university as a whole.

“I see that as beneficial to both parties because it allows us to work to our full potential and it would make the university and even more attractive place for someone to come and do a post doc,” said Harrison.

USW was chosen to represent post docs from a number of possible choices available to the society, if the vote is successful. 

“It was just a positive experience and we felt the union was interested in a genuine way to find out the ins and outs of the unique position of post docs and we knew they already had a presence on the University of Guelph campus,” said Harrison.

If successful, the collective bargaining process will begin soon after the vote, said Harrison.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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