From Stanford Postdocs United: In support of the Graduate Workers Union

April 6, 2023, 6:38 p.m.

To the Stanford Administration and the Stanford Community,

Our graduate student workers are in the process of organizing a union. This important, legally protected and democratic process ensures that graduate student workers will have the power to collectively participate in shaping their work environment. We, alongside over 150 other postdocs at the time of publication, stand in solidarity with graduate student workers and wholeheartedly support their unionization effort. As postdocs at Stanford, we know firsthand how critical the work of graduate student workers is to the core research and teaching missions of the University. This work is indispensable for the functioning of the University and to our own success. For this reason, we stand in solidarity with graduate student workers and call on the University to respect their right to unionize.

Graduate student workers are the driving force of Stanford’s academic excellence. However, the lack of fair compensation for their work that is commensurate with the cost of living is detrimental to graduate productivity and their personal well-being. According to the Bill on Affordability published in October of 2022 by the Graduate Student Council (GSC), Stanford graduate students’ income over the last decade has consistently fallen into the Very Low-Income category, and 78% of graduate students in the most recent survey affirmed they do not meet the minimum standards for financial well-being. Furthermore, annual salary increases have not kept pace with record-high inflation rates and increasing housing costs. In addition, many graduate students experience food insecurity and lack of access to transportation. These circumstances make pursuing a Stanford graduate degree especially challenging for international students and students from marginalized backgrounds.

Based on these concerns, the GSC has worked tirelessly to advocate for better conditions for graduate student workers with the University administration, including salaries commensurate with cost of living, better healthcare coverage and sustainable transit benefits. Disappointingly, administrators have repeatedly dismissed the data collected by the GSC that support their concerns on affordability. The University also failed to consult the GSC when setting next year’s minimum salary, despite having promised otherwise. The University’s repeated lack of collaboration and communication with the GSC on affordability issues has demonstrated that real change for graduate student workers can only come through unionization, giving them an equal seat at the table when demanding better conditions.

A union empowers workers to seek better working and living conditions with the University administration through structured, legally-enforced collective bargaining and increased solidarity. We support the process by which graduate student workers are organizing and ask Stanford to remain neutral while graduate students undergo the democratic decision of forming a union. Further, we ask the University to refrain from joining Duke University in attempting to overturn the National Labor Relations Board ruling that grants graduate students at private universities the right to organize a union. Should the graduate student workers vote to unionize, we hope that the University will recognize the democratically-elected union and conduct negotiations in good faith. You can show your solidarity with the graduate student workers by signing this letter of support.

Stanford Postdocs United is a group of postdocs concerned with improving working and material conditions, including housing, affordability, transit, support for dependents and protection against harassment. Reach out to [email protected] if you would like to learn more or get involved. 

Alexander Jaffe is a postdoc in earth system science studying microbial communities in the global ocean.

Max Turner is a postdoc in neurobiology and studies visual processing in fruit flies.

Catherine Wilka is a postdoc in earth system science. Her research focuses on the climate and variability of the stratosphere.

Menglan Xiang is a postdoc in pathology and studies vascular biology and stroma-immune cell interactions in health and disease.

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