Academic Workers at the California Institute of Technology File for Union Election

Graduate student workers and postdoctoral scholars at the California Institute of Technology are the latest academic workers in California to try to form a union at their university.
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Margaret Attridge is a news reporter for BestColleges focusing on higher education news stories in California. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2022 with a BA in journalism and government and politics....
Published on December 7, 2023
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  • Academic workers at the California Institute of Technology have filed for a union election.
  • They are asking to be recognized as a new bargaining unit affiliated with United Auto Workers (UAW).
  • UAW also represents academic workers in the University of California system and at the University of Southern California.

Graduate student workers and postdoctoral scholars at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have filed to form a union.

The nearly 2,000 academic workers are hoping to be recognized as a new bargaining unit, Caltech Grad Students and Postdocs United-United Auto Workers (CGPU-UAW), with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

"We're excited to be joining a national movement of academic workers forming unions across the country," Natasha Reich, a graduate worker in chemistry, said in an emailed press release.

"Postdocs and graduate workers power Caltech's education and research mission, but we feel the university has not done enough to address the exploding costs of living, or implemented real solutions to the discrimination and bullying we regularly encounter. We are hopeful that Caltech will respect our choice and recognize our union so that we can begin bargaining for improvements to our working conditions."

Caltech can decide to voluntarily recognize the union or wait for a secret ballot election held by the NLRB. If the majority of workers vote to form a union, the university will be required to collectively bargain.

Workers delivered letters signed by academic workers to Caltech's provost, David Tirrell, asking for a transparent process to verify majority support for the union.

United Auto Workers (UAW) represents more than 80,000 workers in higher education, according to the release, forming unions at Columbia University, Northeastern University, the University of Washington, and the University of California system.

More recently, academic workers at the University of Southern California (USC), represented by UAW, reached a tentative agreement on their first contract with the USC administration, avoiding a strike at the end of the semester.

"The UAW welcomes Graduate Student Workers and Postdocs at Caltech into the UAW family," Mike Miller, director of UAW Region 6, said in the release.

"Their contributions are vital to the research which makes Caltech a world-class institution, and their UAW siblings everywhere stand with them in their fight for better wages and working conditions."