UAW Local 5810, the Union of 7,000 Postdocs and 5,000 Academic Researchers at the University of California, strongly supports Mt. Sinai Postdocs’ right to vote for Sinai Postdoctoral Organizing Committee-UAW as their union without interference from the Sinai administration. We have therefore been disturbed to hear of talking points circulated by Mt. Sinai implying that international researchers may be disadvantaged by forming a union. Throughout our 14-year history, no international Postdoc has faced negative consequences to their visa status as a result of their participation in our union.
International Postdocs at UC make up approximately 70% of our workforce, are usually on J-1 or H-1B visas, and are often uniquely affected by many pervasive issues in academic research, like low salaries relative to the cost of living, poor access to housing, lack of recourse for harassment and discrimination, and restrictive visa and immigration policies.
Because these challenges can be addressed through collective bargaining, international Postdocs have led the way throughout our union’s history, holding elected leadership positions, participating in bargaining, signing open letters and petitions, joining in protest actions, and much more. Postdocs on visas have the same legal right to strike as US citizens, and UC Postdocs, including thousands of international researchers, have voted by upwards of 96% to authorize strike action when necessary to reach a fair union contract. This has allowed us to negotiate strong agreements — without ultimately needing to strike — that include guaranteed annual raises for all Postdocs (that have led to a 45% increase in the average salary since 2010), better healthcare benefits at lower costs, protections from unjust termination, and more protections for visa holders among many other rights and protections.
Our union has also played a critical role in assisting international Postdocs in precarious situations specifically related to visa status. For example, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2020, UC attempted to force Postdocs working from abroad to return to the US or lose their positions. Because of our union contract, we were able to fight this policy and protect Postdocs working outside the US from being unfairly terminated.
Having to navigate the US immigration system on a regular basis, international Postdocs have also taken a strong interest in shaping our union’s political platform. In 2015, we heavily lobbied for and eventually won the STEM OPT extension, and more recently successfully pushed to broaden the research fields covered by OPT. During the Trump administration, unionized UC Postdocs met with members of Congress, wrote letters, joined protests, and even filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court to fight Trump’s unjust immigration policies. We’re continuing to fight for fair immigration policies during the Biden administration, you can read some about our platform here.
We’re very excited that Mt. Sinai Postdocs will soon have the opportunity to vote, and we look forward to working together for stronger working conditions, enhanced support for research, and a more just US immigration system. United we bargain, divided we beg.