PostDoc Unions: Good Idea, or not?

ScienceInsider is reporting that Rutgers University postdocs have formed a union.  Rutgers becomes (at least) the third school in the nation to organize into a union, joining the UC system and the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington (edit: and it seems University of Washington and University of Massachusetts)

Is this a good idea or a bad idea?  Postdocs are sort of the limbo of the graduate/professional career.  Sometimes you need one more bullet point on your resume.  Sometimes you’re learning a new field to be a good well rounded scientist.  Sometimes it just feels like what ‘everyone does’ before that first real job.

You’re in the lab with grad students, but you’re not a grad student.  You’re paid better, and generally have more freedoms… but still bend to the will of the PI/research group.  No worrying about cumes or orals or dissertations, but sometimes feeling like you’re in a constant cycle of applying for real jobs.

The lead organizer of the union movement at Rutgers is quoted as saying, “By unionizing, we joined the rest of the university community.”  They’ll begin contract negotiations in the fall on issues such as wage, paid sickleave, benefits, childcare, and others.  But due to the transient nature of the postdoc position, not everyone feels it makes sense to organize.  Turnover is realatively high in the postdoc field.  Some UC postdocs also noted some questionable behavior on the part of union organizers as signatures were being gathered.

UC postdocs currently do not have a contract, despite having voted to organize almost a year ago.  You can follow the progress of contract negotiations here.  One of the updates notes a consequence of organizing during a state-wide budget crisis (emphasis in original):

[UC system] President [Mark] Yudof has publicly proposed in his June 17 letter to the UC community pay cuts and/or furloughs for all UC employees, including Postdocs. President Yudof is proposing to raise this issue with the UC Regents on July 14 and 15. To be perfectly clear, wages and leaves are mandatory topics of bargaining. Since we have formed a union and are in contract negotiations, NO CHANGES CAN BE MADE TO POSTDOC TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF WORK WITHOUT BARGAINING THE CHANGES WITH PRO/UAW.

So what do you think?  Are postdoc unions a good idea or a bad idea?  What about graduate student unions?  What would it mean if the postdoc union went on strike?  What benefits would organizing bring to the postdoc landscape?

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