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Postdocs move towards first academic union on campus

people in a crowd holding a sign and yelling.
Protesters chanting and holding a banner in front of Nassau Hall.
Photo by Calvin Grover

After announcing their intent to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to form a union, approximately 50 postdoctoral scholars delivered a letter to Nassau Hall on Monday calling on the University to remain impartial during the anticipated election to unionize.

“We’re here to ask the administration to play fair in this election,” Harrison Ritz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI), told The Daily Princetonian in an interview.


In an opinion piece in the ‘Prince’ on Sunday, organizers with Princeton University Postdocs and Scholars (PUPS) wrote that over 65 percent of postdocs have signed union cards, well over the 30 percent threshold required to petition for a NLRB election. The card campaign went public in December.

PUPS plans to file with the NLRB on Tuesday, which would make it the first academic union ever on campus to formally seek an election. The NLRB first ruled that graduate students and teaching assistants at private universities were eligible for collective bargaining in 2016. The first postdoctoral workers union was formed in 2018 at Columbia University under the umbrella of the United Auto Workers (UAW), through which PUPS is also seeking recognition.

Once the petition is filed, both the University and the NLRB have seven days to respond.

Other formally recognized unions on campus represent facilities and dining hall workers and the Department of Public Safety, and library employees. Princeton University Library Assistants represents employees at University libraries, excluding professional librarians. As of March, Princeton Graduate Students Union was still conducting its card campaign.

The petition at Monday’s event — separate from the formal NLRB petition, and signed by nearly 150 postdocs — requested that the University “not attempt to influence postdoctoral workers against unionizing.” After assembling in front of the Architecture Building, participants walked to Nassau Hall and delivered a copy of the letter, spanning several feet and printed on bright orange paper, to the arms of an administrator waiting outside.

“We strongly believe that a constructive relationship between PUPS-UAW and the Princeton administration will benefit the overall quality of research and instruction at Princeton,” the letter read.


Postdoctoral organizers used the same tactic in January 2023 to call for a salary increase, days after the University raised salaries for postdocs by almost 20 percent.

“We’ve seen at other universities trying different things, trying different kinds of legal maneuvers, trying to carve up the bargaining unit into different cohorts, and we think that’s ridiculous,” Ritz said. “Postdocs in those cases have all still won their union. Why delay?”

“We have received the letter and are committed to continuing our support for our postdoc community. We look forward to constructive engagement as this process unfolds,” University spokesperson Jennifer Morrill wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince.’

May Huang, a postdoc in the Princeton Department of Geosciences, said she hoped to see “more genuine, realistic conversations [from the University] with us because … sociology research indicates that unionization is the way to go. There’s a movement in the entire country.”

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Miriam Waldvogel is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’

Ethan Caldwell is a staff News writer for the ‘Prince.’

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]