To: Caltech Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars
From: David A. Tirrell, Provost
Date: March 8, 2023
In the fall, the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) initiated efforts to unionize graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at Caltech.
You may be – or perhaps you already have been – approached by union representatives and asked to sign a union authorization card. It is important that you understand the significance of authorization cards, what unionization means, and how the process might change your experience at Caltech.
Signing an authorization card has legal implications. By signing one, you indicate your interest in and support of a union election. If the union wins the election, you would be authorizing the union to serve as your exclusive representative in negotiating the terms and conditions of your employment. However, signing a union card is not the same thing as voting in a union election—even if you sign a union authorization card, you can vote either "yes" or "no" in an election. Ultimately, if union organizers obtain signed authorization cards from 30 percent or more of the targeted voting unit, they can petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold an election and you will be asked to cast your vote for or against the union.
This is a complicated topic, and you are likely to hear a variety of opinions and perspectives on the wisdom of joining a union. We encourage all members of our community to discuss the subject in a respectful and responsible manner, in which facts and views are presented accurately and honestly. I write to you in that spirit.
Those of us charged with the responsibility of leading the Institute believe that unionization of our graduate students and postdocs could alter the distinctive, personalized approach that characterizes graduate education and postdoctoral training at Caltech. We prefer to continue working directly and collaboratively with you to enhance our environment and your professional growth. The introduction of a union—an outside, non-academic, third party—could change fundamentally the graduate and postdoctoral experience at Caltech, not only for you, but also for future students and postdocs. It could compromise the ability of faculty and administrators to work with you directly to make decisions and resolve concerns. And, as has occurred at some unionized universities, work stoppages and/or other workplace conflicts could interfere with the progress of your work.
Today, each of you has your own voice, agency, and multiple avenues for advocacy. Each of you also benefits from the ability to tailor your Caltech experience to serve your personal goals and circumstances by working directly with faculty mentors. In contrast, a union agreement could impose a uniform approach that forfeits many of the important advantages of our close-knit community and may limit your autonomy. For example, payment of union dues or agency fees and authorization of work stoppages (which could slow research progress for many people on campus whether they support the union or not) are likely to be group, not individual, decisions if a union is established at Caltech.
If you have questions about the process or implications of unionization, I encourage you to explore them fully, so you can make an informed decision if a union election is held. It is important that you understand what unionization could mean for our campus, and if an election is held, that you vote, whether you support unionization or oppose it.
We have created a website that provides more information about unionization and collective bargaining. It offers answers to questions you may have about the process and potential effects of electing union representation. Please take some time to review the material and to share questions, concerns, or comments.