CUPA's Unionisation Drive

Unionisation Factsheet

What is collective bargaining and how is it different from what we have now?

Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. With collective bargaining, Postdoc representatives we choose will survey us to determine priorities and will then negotiate a contract with Carleton. We can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment. We will have an opportunity to democratically approve the agreement that Carleton and our bargaining team achieve before it becomes a binding contract.  

Wage comparisonA contract is enforced by a grievance procedure, ending with binding arbitration before a neutral third party, rather than Carleton administration, as is currently the case. Without a contract, Carleton has the unilateral ability to decide and change our wages, benefits, and working conditions.  Recently the administration introduced a voluntary health and dental plan for Postdocs--with no consultation on the scope of the plan, its costs or its structure. As a result, the voluntary plan has a prohibitive monthly price, which is entirely borne by Postdocs themselves (as a point of comparison, equivalent coverage through Blue Cross is almost 17% cheaper and the Student Health and Dental plan at Carleton is over 85% cheaper). Under collective bargaining, Postdocs would be able to negotiate the terms and conditions of a health plan that suits us.

Health benefits costsCompensation is another issue. The minimum stipend for Postdocs at Carleton is $25,000. If we worked 40 hours a week, this would be an hourly rate of roughly $12.02 an hour. We know that most Postdocs work upward of 40 hours a week, pushing the hourly rate very close to minimum wage. In contrast, Graduate Student Teaching Assistants at Carleton make $38.21, with no PhDs and for more basic work. Even Undergraduate Teaching Assistants make $21.62 an hour. There are, of course, many other benefits to unionization besides money, such as access to third-party conflict resolution processes, advanced protection from and recourse for workplace harassment and discrimination, expanded health and safety coverage, and the ability to negotiate collectively with the employer for further improvements to our working conditions, rather than doing this one-on-one in what are always power-imbalanced situations.

How has collective bargaining benefited Postdocs elsewhere?

The Postdocs at McMaster were the first to unionize in Canada and they just ratified their second collective agreement in March 2012. Their first collective agreement was a very significant development and demonstrates some of the benefits that are achievable through unionization: a salary step-up of $1000 in the first year, wage increases of 13%, inclusion in CUPE’s dental plan, 100% employer-paid vision, drug, and health coverage, single and family UHIP premiums paid by McMaster for international Postdocs, protection under McMaster’s Whistle-Blower and Intellectual Property policies, a $20,000 conference travel fund, E.I. top-ups to 95% of salary for 17 weeks for Postdocs on maternity leave, a $400 bonus each year on the anniversary of the signing of the agreement, and overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 hours beyond an average of 44 hours a week.

Moreover, the Postdoctoral researchers at the University of Massachusetts ratified their first contract in March 2012, with raises and new benefits. The Postdocs will gain a 2 percent increase in wages immediately, another 2 percent in September, with 3 percent increases the following two years. Benefits in the new contract include partial reimbursement for child care expenses, paid holidays and sick time equivalent to those offered other employees. In addition, all of those in the bargaining unit will now have health coverage.

As well, an article in the March 3, 2006 issue in Science’s Next Wave outlines many of the improvements won by unionized Postdocs at the University of Connecticut Healthcare Center (UCHC) though collective bargaining. In their first contract, Postdocs won significant wage increases (as much as $10,000 in some cases), annual cost of living adjustments, improved evaluation procedures and advances in other aspects of their rights and working conditions. Although, at the time Postdocs were unionizing at UCHC, some claimed that higher pay for Postdocs would mean fewer positions or that Union representation might negatively impact Postdoc relationships with their PIs, these concerns have not materialized. Some also fear that the multiple and varied nature of Postdoc funding sources would make it difficult to bargain wages without negatively affecting grants. However, unionized Postdocs at UCHC say they have not seen any negative impact on grants from collective bargaining. 

That is why a majority of Postdocs have unionized at McMaster University, Queen’s University, the University of Western Ontario, l'Université du Québec à Montréal, Memorial University, the University of Connecticut, Rutgers, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of California. And that is why the CUPA Executive has decided to pursue unionization at this time. If you have any questions about the process, please do not hesitate to contact us at

What is the Unionization Process?

Step 1: Get Union Cards Signed

The first step is to sign a Union Card. In order to get to step 2, the Union must have at least 40% of those eligible to join sign a card. In practice, you want more than that in order to create a safety buffer. These cards are kept by the union at this stage, and the employer will not know that you have signed a card unless you tell them.

Step 2: Labour Board Vote

Once you have the required number of signed cards (or the number you determine above it), you apply for certification to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. At this point, the Union Cards are given to the Labour Board. However, the employer never sees the cards or is aware who signed them. The Labour Board will, at this stage, obtain a list of employees from the employer in order to verify that the union has valid cards. If the Board is satisfied the Union has the required number of cards, it will conduct a vote. If 50% plus 1 of those who vote, vote yes, then you are unionized.

Step 3: Bargain a Collective Agreement

Now that you are unionized, your first goal is to bargain a Collective Agreement (the document the union and the employer bargain and sign). A team, drawn from the members of the workplace (but with support of the Union), will bargain with the employer about all terms of employment. Once an Agreement is reached, members will vote about whether or not to accept it.