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Frequently Asked Questions

In an election for two separate units overseen by the National Labor Relation Board in 2024, Caltech graduate students and postdoctoral scholars voted in favor of representation by the Caltech Grad Researchers and Postdocs United (CGPU), affiliated with the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).

The following frequently asked questions provide general information about union representation, the NLRB election process, and collective bargaining. We hope you find this information helpful. We will update this page to provide additional answers on related topics as needed.

General Overview

A union is an organization that serves as the agent representing a specific group of employees. This group is called a "bargainingunit." A union negotiates wages, hours and other working terms and conditions on behalf of a bargaining unit.

Caltech Grad Researchers and Postdocs United (CGPU) is an organization of both Caltech graduate students and postdoctoral scholars affiliated with the UAW that has been elected and certified as the exclusive bargaining representative of Caltech graduate students and postdoctoral scholars on matters related to the terms and conditions of their appointments. Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars will be represented in separate bargaining units that are both represented by CGPU-UAW.

The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) represents 400,000 active members globally, and has worked with hospitals, non-profit organizations, and automobile industry employees.

Yes. In fact, there was an election for two separate units, one for graduate students and one for postdoctoral scholars. Voting took place on January 31, 2024, and February 1, 2024. This election decided union representation of Caltech's graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal administrative agency that oversaw and administered the elections, reported that in the graduate student election, 1,045 of approximately 1,439 graduate students (approximately 73% of the number of eligible graduate students) voted, and in the postdoctoral scholar election, 290 of approximately 558 postdoctoral scholars (approximately 52% of eligible postdoctoral scholars) voted.

Of the tallied ballots, 799 (76%) of graduate students voted in favor of representation by CGPU-UAW. Of the tallied ballots in the postdoctoral scholars' election, 240 (83%) of postdoctoral scholars voted in favor of representation by CGPU-UAW. As such, the NLRB certified CGPU-UAW as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of the graduate student bargaining unit and the postdoctoral scholar bargaining unit.

Included: All graduate students enrolled at Caltech and appointed in teaching-related positions, including Graduate Teaching Assistants, and all graduate students enrolled at Caltech and appointed in research related positions, including Graduate Research Assistants (regardless of funding sources and those compensated through fellowships and/or training grants).

Excluded: All other employees, postdoctoral scholars, undergraduate students, visiting students, all other students, office clerical employees, managerial employees, professional employees, guards, and supervisors as defined in the National Labor Relations Act.

Included: All postdoctoral scholars employed by Caltech in teaching-related jobs as Postdoctoral Teaching Fellows, and all postdoctoral scholars employed by Caltech in research-related jobs, including as Postdoctoral Scholar Research Associates, and Postdoctoral Scholar Fellowship Trainees subject to the limitations in the stipulated election agreement (regardless of funding sources and those compensated through fellowships and/or training grants).

Excluded: All other employees, graduate students, all other students, postdoctoral scholars employed solely by JPL who do not have a Caltech appointment, visiting postdoctoral scholars, office clerical employees, managerial employees, professional employees, guards, and supervisors as defined in the National Labor Relations Act.

CGPU-UAW is the certified exclusive bargaining representative of all graduate students and postdoctoral scholars falling within the scope of the graduate student and postdoctoral scholar bargaining units (see answer above). As such, the union is responsible for negotiating on behalf of bargaining unit members with respect to the terms regarding wages, hours, and working conditions at the Institute. An individual cannot opt out of representation, even if they did not vote in favor of the union.

Yes, it can. As a member of a union, an individual may be charged dues, initiation fees, fines, and assessments, among other costs. Unions decide these costs according to their own formulas and usually seek to have dues and fees directly drawn from members' paychecks. In California, employees can be required to join a union and pay dues to get or keep a job.

Caltech and each elected bargaining unit are obligated to begin a process called "collective bargaining." Although collective bargaining does not require parties to reach an agreement, the goal of collective bargaining is for the parties to agree to a contract that defines the working conditions, hours, and wages for all individuals represented by the CGPU-UAW. The union is the only representative who can speak on behalf of those in each of the certified bargaining units concerning the terms and conditions of unit members' appointments at the Institute.

Now that the NLRB has certified CGPU-UAW as the exclusive representative of the graduate student and postdoctoral scholar bargaining units, it remains so indefinitely and will represent all current and future graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who will matriculate or join the Institute in a position included in the bargaining units.

Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining is the process by which a union and an employer negotiate the terms and conditions of employment, including wages, benefits, and hours for all members of the bargaining unit. A union has the exclusive authority to bargain collectively on behalf of all union members.

Based on collective bargaining negotiations at other universities, it is likely that collective bargaining would take place over a series of meetings at which representatives of both CGPU-UAW and Caltech would exchange written proposals for a collective bargaining agreement, also known as a labor contract for each bargaining unit. The negotiations for a first contract can take months and sometimes a year or more to complete.

During the collective bargaining process, federal labor law requires that Caltech and the union engage in good faith negotiation over terms and conditions of appointments. This means the parties meet, confer, and consider each other's proposals with a genuine desire to reach an agreement. However, the duty to negotiate in good faith does not require compromise or agreement on any proposal and does not require the parties to reach an overall agreement.

Yes, but this happens infrequently. Most often, a bargaining unit remains the same as in the NLRB's certification of representative. However, a bargaining unit (i.e., the group of people a union represents) can change if the union and the employer agree to change it. The bargaining unit can also change if either the union or the employer files a unit clarification petition, which is a formal request that the NLRB revise the parameters of the certified bargaining unit.

In a university setting, bargaining topics have included wages, work hours, health insurance, teaching assistant and research assistant appointments, disciplinary procedures, grievances and arbitration, leaves of absence (e.g., medical, parental, bereavement), vacation, health and safety, union access and rights, intellectual property rights, and workload.

Yes, depending on their appointment and how the bargaining unit is defined (see answer above), graduate students may enter and exit the bargaining unit during their time at Caltech. Graduate students who are part of the bargaining unit are subject to union representation.

Representatives of both Caltech and CGPU-UAW will sit at the bargaining table. Those individuals might include, on Caltech's side, labor relations professionals, administrators, and faculty members. The union will pick its own representatives.

At this stage, it is impossible to know what will be included in the collective bargaining agreements for each bargaining unit. Any promises of increases in pay or improvements to benefits are not guaranteed.

Although CGPU-UAW and the Institute have a legal duty to bargain in good faith, it is possible that the parties may reach an "impasse" or a point in collective bargaining where further negotiation would be fruitless as neither side will move from their respective positions. Determining when the parties have reached an impasse is rarely clear cut and often leads to litigation. Yet, if an impasse is reached, the parties could resort to economic tactics. For example, the Institute would have the right to implement unilaterally its last proposal and a union may choose to engage in a work stoppage such as a strike.

Current Financial Support and Benefits at Caltech

In addition to minimum annual graduate student pay of $45,000 for graduate students and $68,000 for postdoctoral scholars for AY 23-24, the Institute provides graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and their families with access to robust health care coverage plans, including medical, dental, and vision insurance; financial resources and assistance for parents; retirement programs; and other benefits.

The Institute covers more than 80% of medical premiums each month and covers up to 37% of dental premiums for graduate students and an average of 71% of dental, vision, and disability premiums for postdoctoral scholars.

Additional details on graduate student and postdoctoral scholar benefits are separately detailed in their respective handbooks.

Yes. In addition to the standard benefits, over the last several years, the Institute has established additional funds and programs to augment annual pay (designed to support a single individual) for graduate student and postdoctoral scholar parents. Benefits and additional funds and programs for graduate student and postdoctoral scholar parents include:

  • Graduate student and postdoctoral scholar parents are provided up to 6 weeks of paid pregnancy leave before a child's birth, and an additional eight weeks of paid leave, through family bonding leave, following the birth of a child or the placement of a child with a graduate student or postdoctoral scholar in connection with adoption or foster care.
  • Graduate student and postdoctoral parents are also eligible to receive up to $5,000 annually to help defray childcare costs through Caltech's Childcare Assistance Program. Since spring 2022, through a partnership with Care.com, the Institute has subsidized up to 10 days of backup childcare annually for children from infancy to age 16.
  • Enrolled graduate students are eligible to apply for reimbursement of healthcare costs (beyond Caltech health insurance student premiums) up to $140 per month (rate effective for costs as of September 1, 2020), per dependent.
  • Graduate student parents are eligible to receive additional annual pay of up to $10,000 for the purpose of supporting family expenses. Funding for dependent care is awarded monthly.
  • In 2022, the Institute extended its paid leave benefit to provide up to 8 weeks of full paid leave for the purpose of caring for or bonding with a new child. In instances when both parents are part of the Institute community, the benefit applies equally to both individuals.
  • Postdoctoral scholars can set aside tax-free dollars to pay for eligible expenses to receive a tax saving benefit through Dependent Day Care Flexible Spending Arrangements (DCFSA).

Caltech provides a supportive and secure environment for all members of the Caltech community, including graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. We expect all members of the community to adhere to Caltech's community statement of ethical conduct, and to act with integrity and in a manner that reflect our community's shared values.

Caltech encourages any member of the community who becomes aware of misconduct or a policy violation to report it. Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars may contact the Office of Research Policy for any suspected research misconduct; the Title IX and Equity Office for identity-based discrimination or unlawful harassment; the Graduate Studies Office for abusive conduct or bullying, which is expressly prohibited in Caltech's Unlawful Harassment and Abusive Conduct policy; Human Resources for any workplace related grievance; and the Office of the General Counsel for all of the above. Individuals may also anonymously report concerns through an online reporting form managed by the Institute's Audit and Compliance unit or through the Title IX and Equity Office.

In an instance where there may be a violation of the Institute's Sex- and Gender-based Misconduct and Unlawful Harassment policies, members of the community may also access confidential resources who can help them to explore their options for addressing a grievance, misconduct issue or policy violation and to offer support while they decide what action to take.

Furthermore, postdoctoral scholars may reach out to the faculty representative for the postdoctoral affairs in their division, their division chair, or the vice provost for research. Graduate students may reach out to the Graduate Dean's Office or their division chair with any concern or problem they are facing. Detailed information about these resources is provided during orientation and are included in the Institute and student policies online.

updated February 21, 2024