Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

Princeton postdocs and scholars are united on unionization, and we’re ready to vote

Group of adults stand in front of SPIA fountain. Large triangle monument sits in middle of fountain.
Nearly 100 postdocs and scholars protested in December 2023.
Courtesy of Sam Nastase

Postdocs and scholars across Princeton want a union. For the past year, we have been talking with our colleagues and signing union authorization cards. These cards demonstrate our support for collective bargaining through a union. A supermajority of all postdoctoral researchers and Associate Research Scholars — over 65 percent — have signed authorization cards, clearly showing the majority desire for a collective voice and better working conditions.

On Tuesday, postdocs and scholars are filing with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union. We call on the administration to allow us to hold our election this spring without interference.


As postdocs and associate research scholars, we have worked hard for our positions at Princeton, and we want to continue doing the best research and scholarship of our lives. But as it currently stands, we have little say in our working conditions. We lack priority for housing that our salaries can afford, and we often have no meaningful representation on University governing bodies. A major driver of this precarity is the transient nature of our jobs: Many of us are only here for a few short years. It’s incredibly difficult to build community and advocate for ourselves when there is little tying together the generations of postdocs and scholars at Princeton. A union can help change that.

With a union, we could negotiate as equals with Princeton to shape the terms of our employment. We could secure improvements to pay, benefits, and working conditions that reflect our values and address our needs: more affordable housing, more affordable childcare, and other improvements to our compensation and treatment at work. With a union, we could join a growing movement of postdocs at peer institutions who are taking similar action. Postdocs at Mt. Sinai just won a $72,500 base salary and three-year subsidized housing guarantees. International postdocs in the unionized University of California system enjoy multi-year appointments and OPT extensions that simplify their visa process. With a union, we could win those same benefits and more.

Holding a vote as soon as possible will empower the voices of postdocs and scholars who have made their desire for a union crystal clear. In a strong display of public support, 141 postdocs and scholars representing 41 departments across Princeton have signed an open letter urging the Princeton administration to allow postdocs and scholars to proceed to a speedy union election. At 1 p.m. on April 1, postdocs and scholars are meeting at the Architecture Building lawn to deliver this letter to administrators in Nassau Hall.

We hope that the Princeton administration will respect the will of the supermajority of postdocs and scholars and let us vote in a fair election. However, we’ve seen peer institutions use legal maneuvers and delay tactics to discourage unionization campaigns. Postdocs coming from Harvard University may remember how the administration invalidated hundreds of votes by supplying incorrect voter rolls. Administrators at universities like Columbia University, University of Chicago, and University of Pennsylvania tried to delay union elections through legal challenges claiming that postdocs and graduate students aren’t real employees. In all of these cases, postdocs and graduate students got their vote and won their union.

We’ve also been disappointed to see how administrators at other universities have tried to disrupt elections by trying to split up the bargaining unit — the group represented by the union. At Caltech, administrators petitioned to remove groups of postdocs from the bargaining unit. Postdocs won the ability to stay together, and voted for unionization with a four-to-one majority. At Columbia University, administrators specifically tried to divide postdocs and associate research scholars. These groups also won the right to vote together, forming the first postdoc union at a private university with a two-to-one majority!

Postdocs and scholars at Princeton stand united in our campaign. Despite our diverse fields of study, talking to postdocs and scholars across the university has made clear that we share remarkably similar experiences and needs. Whether we are officially called Postdoctoral Researchers or Associate Research Scholars, we are hired to term-limited appointments and have virtually the same roles and responsibilities. We are all in the same uncertain and temporary stage of our careers. Princeton’s own policies mandate that Postdoctoral Researchers either be promoted to the Associate Research Scholar position after six years, or face termination. We all consider ourselves ‘postdocs,’ and many of us don’t even know our official title. We ask that the Princeton administrators do the right thing and not attempt to divide us.


Princeton administrators have remained relatively neutral in this campaign so far, which we sincerely applaud! They have not deployed the same divisive rhetoric and tactics that we’ve seen at other universities. Perhaps they are inspired by our neighbors in New Jersey: At Rutgers University, graduate students and faculty have shared the same union and been on a common contract since 1972! We know that Princeton has this same collegial spirit, and can see that unionization in higher education is the new normal.

We are driving progress across countless academic fields, and the research environment we help create makes Princeton a top destination for students. We are proud employees and members of the Princetonian community. But to do our jobs effectively, we need a seat at the table to help shape the conditions that allow us, and our scholarship, to thrive. By supporting a swift and fair election process for postdocs and scholars, Princeton can demonstrate its commitment to its highest ideals of service, knowledge, and progress.

This piece is written by a group of postdocs and scholars. Harrison Ritz is an Associate Research Scholar at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. Jessica Ng is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the High Meadows Environmental Institute. Judy Kim is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University Center for Human Values. Robert Martin is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Chemistry. Rachel Bedder is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Psychology. Umut Kamber is an Associate Research Scholar in the Department of Physics. Paola Estrada is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Molecular Biology. Clayton Goodgame is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Hellenic Studies. Lucia Stein-Montalvo is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »