Fellows: get ready!
After securing a historic union election victory, fellows will soon begin negotiating with NIH to make improvements to our contracts and working conditions. While members of the Bargaining Committee (more below) will communicate our collective interests at the negotiation table, our ability to win serious, impactful changes will depend on what happens outside of those meetings in the coming weeks and months. The NIH administration has seen what thousands of fellows, united under a common goal can achieve. In order to make our voices heard and address the issues fellows care about most, each of us must make every effort to show the administration that we are serious about our bargaining demands and securing strong improvements to our contracts.
How can we do this?
There will likely be many ways we will show our unity around making these improvements:
- Electing bargaining committee members
- Signing petitions to show our support for bargaining proposals
- Collaborating to build our strategy by attending union events at all levels of organizing
- Participating in rallies to demonstrate to NIH administrators our resolve and our willingness to take action
- Organizing with your colleagues to build the strength and power of our union
- And more!
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What is the bargaining process?
What we win in our contract depends on our power as a union, which comes down to how unified we are and how credibly we demonstrate that unity to the NIH administration. We can think of the time between now and the future ratification of our first contract as a set of escalating majority actions demonstrating our unity and resolve. This means more fellows, doing more impactful things together, more often.
Identifying the issues and outlining demands: Workers will collectively identify and prioritize concerns, which may include addressing unfair management practices or advocating for improved wages and benefits. This is democratically researched through the participation of all fellows in the Bargaining Survey. [https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NIHFellowsBargainingSurvey]
Engaging in negotiations: The Bargaining Committee, a team of fellows elected to represent fellows of all position types (e.g., postbac, predoc, visiting fellow, postdoc, etc…) will meet with NIH administration representatives to negotiate our demands for the contract. These discussions will continue until both parties reach a mutually acceptable resolution.
Reaching a preliminary agreement: Once negotiations conclude, a tentative agreement will be reached. This agreement will undergo scrutiny by both sides, addressing any remaining concerns or details before finalization.
Approval and ratification: The proposed agreement will be presented to all fellows with the recommendation of support (to ratify) from the bargaining committee. All fellows will have the opportunity to approve or reject the proposed contract through a democratic voting process.
Implementing the agreement: Upon ratification, workers and elected representatives for our union will ensure the NIH upholds the terms and conditions outlined in the agreement. Continuous monitoring will ensure compliance and adherence to the agreed-upon terms.
How can I get more involved?
- Fill out the Bargaining Survey [https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NIHFellowsBargainingSurvey]
- Encourage others in your building and lab to fill out the survey [https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NIHFellowsBargainingSurvey]
- Attend & participate in organizing meetings (to find out how, email email@example.com)
- Join a workgroup to get more involved on a specific topic
Why is it important to participate?
Huge participation is critical because the NIH administration pays close attention to our participation rates — in the bargaining survey, in the initial demands ratification, and throughout the campaign — to gauge our strength. When a strong majority of fellows are involved, the NIH administration knows union members are willing to protect and enforce the rights and benefits guaranteed under the contract, and we’re able to make bigger wins. On the flip side, if we have low overall participation, the NIH administration won’t take us seriously at the bargaining table, and we could even risk losing potential gains such as increased compensation, more favorable visa policies for visiting fellows, better health care, and more. So the stakes are high, but we know we can win when members are unified and active!
What have other academic unions won through bargaining?
Academic unions have won various provisions in their contracts, aiming to improve working conditions and benefits for their members. These victories often include:
- Salary: Securing better wages or regular salary increases to keep up with the cost of living, as well as ensuring transparency and equity around how pay scales are set.
- Healthcare Benefits: Codifying existing standards and obtaining improved and expanded healthcare coverage, including health insurance, dental, and vision benefits for union members and their families.
- Anti-discrimination protections: Stronger protections against sexual harassment and discrimination, including union representation, interim measures, and the right to take complaints to a neutral arbitrator. Protections so that workers who report a claim are protected to ensure their research and career progress are not derailed.
- Visa processing: Guaranteed paid time off for immigration-related proceedings, access to remote work opportunities is unable to return to the US, longer visas, and requirement of management to help researchers with proper paperwork who are barred entry to the US.
- Job Security: Negotiating for stronger job protections, such as provisions against unjust termination and increased contract durations.
- Workload and Working Conditions: Advocating for limits on workload, fair work hours, improved safety measures, and better working environments.
- Professional Development: Gaining support for professional growth, such as funding for conferences, training programs, or career advancement opportunities.
- Paid Leave and Benefits: Securing additional paid leave, such as sick days, parental leave, and vacation time.
- Retirement Benefits: Providing access to employer-sponsored retirement plans for union members.
These achievements vary across different academic unions and negotiations and are often the result of collective efforts to address the specific needs and priorities of the workers. More information can be found here.
What is the composition of the bargaining team and how are members selected?
Bargaining Committee Nominations
All NIH Fellows are automatically nominated for the Bargaining Committee. All Fellows across all titles and work locations will cast a ranked vote for all candidates who accept nomination, and the top vote recipients will be chosen for the 11 person Bargaining Committee as such:
- 2 Postbaccalaureate Fellows
- 2 Predoctoral Fellows
- 2 non-Visiting Postdoctoral Fellows
- 2 Visiting Postdoctoral Fellows
- 2 FTE Fellows (Research or Clinical)
- 1 at-large Fellow chosen from the top runner up from the above positions
Nomination Procedure for Bargaining Committee
Each member who wishes to accept nomination for themselves and appear on the ballot must indicate this intention in writing by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the written acceptance, specify the type of Fellow you are (postbac, predoc, non-visiting postdoc, visiting postdoc, or FTE) and how you wish your name to appear on the ballot. Fellows accepting nomination may also submit a candidate statement (up to 500 words). Written acceptance and optional candidate statements must be received no later than January 18th, 2024 at 5 PM Eastern Time.
The election will take place on January 26th and 27th, 2024. Voting will take place securely online via a secret ballot election. Further information about how to access your ballot will be distributed after nominations close
Everyone who is a Fellow at the NIH at time of the election is eligible to vote. In the event of a tie, a runoff will be held on February 5th, 2024.
The bargaining committee aims to represent the different viewpoints and interests of all the fellows at the NIH. This team needs to have the right skills for effective negotiations with NIH administration. Picking the team openly and making sure everyone’s included is critical, so your participation and feedback throughout this process is important. That way, the elected bargaining team can make sure it listens to what all workers want and need.
When will bargaining begin? How Long will bargaining take?
The time bargaining takes varies—it might be several weeks or even several months. How long it lasts depends on lots of things, like how tricky the issues are, if everyone agrees, and how strong each side is during negotiation sessions. But here’s the deal: for bargaining to work well and quickly, we need the support of most fellows every step of the way.
Winning at the bargaining table depends on all of us sticking together and showing our strength as a team. So, the more of us who stay involved and show support, the better chance we have of getting the best deal possible. Let’s keep our unity strong because our collective power is what will help us succeed!
I’ve had a good experience as a fellow— why should I care about this?
Even if your personal experience as a fellow has been positive, it’s still important to care about the bargaining process. Your participation in this process isn’t just about your own experiences; it’s about ensuring that the positive aspects you’ve enjoyed remain and that we can make things even better for everyone.
By getting involved in bargaining, you have the chance to influence and enhance the working conditions and benefits not only for yourself but also for your fellow colleagues and all those who become NIH fellows long after your contract has ended. Your input contributes to creating a fair and supportive work environment that benefits everyone in the NIH community– since our community sets trends across U.S. academic institutions, you will also benefit the academic community as a whole. Being a part of this process allows you to actively shape the future of academic research and contribute to maintaining a workplace that values everyone’s well-being and success. Your engagement can make a real difference in creating a positive and thriving work atmosphere for all.
Who should I contact if I have more questions?
Email us at info@NIHFellowsUnited.org