Frequently Asked Questions
The Answers You Need
The PDAC FAQ aims to regroup the questions and issues that have been reported to PDAC by the membership.
If you cannot find the information you need, please contact us.
Who is a postdoc?
“A postdoctoral researcher or postdoc is a person professionally conducting research after the completion of their doctoral studies. [..] They carry out research and further increase expertise in a specialist subject, including integrating a team and acquiring novel skills and research methods. Postdoctoral research is often considered essential while advancing the scholarly mission of the host institution; it is expected to produce relevant publications in peer-reviewed academic journals or conferences. [..] Postdoctoral research may be funded through an appointment with a salary or an appointment with a stipend or sponsorship award. Appointments for such a research position may be called postdoctoral research fellow, postdoctoral research associate or postdoctoral research assistant.
At the University of Calgary, three types of appointments exist for postdoctoral researchers: postdoctoral associates, postdoctoral fellowship holders, and general associates.
You can find more information here:
What is a union?
A union, also called trade or labour union, is an organization that protects common interests and negotiates goals across particular sections of professionals. The most common purpose is to improve or at least maintain the conditions of the group’s employment. Through its leadership, the trade union bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates contracts through collective bargaining with employers. This includes the negotiation of salaries, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion, benefits (such as vacation, extended health care, and retirement), workplace safety and policies.
PDAC is the newly minted union for all postdoctoral researchers at the University of Calgary.
How did PDAC become a union?
In 2015, PDAC and the Postdoctoral Associations of the Universities of Alberta and Lethbridge conducted surveys which conclusively showed that the majority of Postdocs wanted to attain employee status and the right to unionize for bargaining purposes. Specifically, at the University of Calgary, only 10% opposed.
In 2016, based on this survey data, the postdoctoral associations submitted a joint letter and report to the Government of Alberta requesting that Postdocs be given employee status, funding to offset the associated loss of income to postdocs, and similar rights and privileges to those already afforded to graduate students and academic faculty.
In 2017, the Government passed Bill 7, which granted postdocs employee status and the right to unionize.
In 2018, PDAC was incorporated as a union and bargaining agent (see Order in Council).
You can find more information in the PDAC History section.
Were postdocs consulted during the unionization process?
Yes. PDAC, alongside the Postdoctoral Associations of the Universities of Alberta and Lethbridge, conducted surveys in 2015 which conclusively showed that the majority of Postdocs wanted to attain employee status and the right to unionize for bargaining purposes. At the University of Calgary, only 10% opposed.
Are students, academic staff and other groups on campus also unionized?
Yes. At the University of Calgary, undergraduate students are represented by the Student’s Union (SU), graduate students are represented by the Graduate Students Association (GSA), and faculty and academic staff are represented by the Faculty Association (TUCFA). Management and Professional Staff (MaPS) are currently evaluating joining TUCFA. Finally, support staff are represented by the Alberta Union for Provincial Employees (AUPE).
Are postdoctoral unions common?
Yes and no. On one hand, postdocs have long held employee status in many countries and as such have always had the right to join and be part of a union. On the other hand, unions specifically for postdocs are a fairly new North American phenomenon that, “has been driven by increasing competition for scarce tenure-track faculty positions, leading to more people resident in postdoctoral positions for a longer time. Unions often challenge the low pay, minimal benefits, and lack of job security that are typical of postdoctoral positions. [..] Some universities seek to avoid pushes for unionisation by proactively addressing the concerns of postdoctoral researchers.”
Do I have to be a member?
Yes. However, you can withdraw from membership on religious grounds, as described in the Bylaws Section XX. Membership in a postdoctoral union in Alberta is described in the Post-Secondary Learning Act Section 92 and governed through the Alberta Labour Code, section 29.
Why are there fees?
The new PDAC is a union with collective bargaining duties and other essential services for members. To be operational, PDAC will need (a) an executive director to manage the union and deal with grievances (e.g. sudden job losses, or sudden loss of benefits), (b) negotiators and consultants during bargaining, (c) spend money on resolving legal matters, (d) office space, a computer, a phone line, and upkeep of this website. In addition, unions typically provide small honoraria to postdocs elected as Executive Officers and/or hire other personnel as needed; they have a small advocacy fund, and a budget to provide professional development opportunities to their members. Membership fees are unfortunately necessary to cover these costs.
Are the fees tax deductible?
How can PDAC help me?
On your own, it can be risky and difficult to push for improvements to your salary, benefits or working conditions. But there is power in numbers, and postdocs can have a voice at the University by coming together to in a union. We can stand up together to tackle the numerous and diverse issues we face.
Without a union, the Board of Governors and your Principal Investigator can change terms of your employment that are not explicitly regulated through legislation or your contract at any time without consulting you.
Employers typically don’t like the idea of giving up that power, but all postdocs in Alberta have the legally protected right to bargain for improvements they desire.
PDAC is the newly minted union that will survey your needs, ask for your input, and do its best to bargain on your behalf for the causes that are most dear to you. PDAC can also advise and connect you, and file grievances for you in cases like unlawful termination etc.
We strive to always have an open ear and offer in-person drop-in meetings (“Ask-Me-Anything Events”), as well as chat hours through this website.
All personal conversations will be kept completely confidential.
What has PDAC done for me so far?
In the past, PDAC has organized professional development days, resume and interview preparation workshops, immigration workshops, and much more.
In 2017, PDAC has helped 80% of postdocs gain employee status. This means access to a pension plan valid anywhere in the world, unemployment insurance, and the accumulation of room for pensionable savings within a tax-free registered pension plan.
If you are an international postdoc, you might also be able to contribute to your home country’s pension plan; unemployment insurance can be used for parental leave, leaves of absence, or potentially up to one month past the end of employment in Canada. Employment status further gives you the ability to apply for permanent residency after only 1 year in Canada through the provincial employees scheme.
In the same year, PDAC also secured postdoctoral researchers’ right to unionize.
Both efforts were undertaken after a survey indicated in 2016 that both the attainment of employment status and the right to unionize were things postdocs at the University of Calgary wanted.
PDAC will continue to advocate on behalf of all postdoctoral researchers.
Why am I not an employee when most other postdocs are?
In all likelihood you are not an employee because your salary comes from sources external to the University of Calgary and has been awarded to you rather than your supervisor. The Board of Governors holds the view that the University is not the employer of a postdoc that it does not provide the salary for.
You can find more information here:
I am a postdoctoral fellowship holder or general associate, and I am not considered to be an employee by the University. Can PDAC even bargain on my behalf?
Yes. The new PDAC is an incorporated union with an collective bargaining unit that represents all postdocs working at the University of Calgary regardless of employment status.
While it was previously assumed that the association would only be able to negotiate for postdocs who are deemed employees by the University, follow-up discussions with Alberta Advanced Education have made it clear that is not the case.
According to the Province, the intention of the legislation (Bill 7) was that all postdocs be re-classified as ‘employees’ with respect to their bargaining rights, regardless of whether or not they are classified as such by the institutions or with respect to access to statutory benefits (i.e., employment insurance and the Canada pension plan).
In other words, the Postdoctoral Associations are empowered to negotiate on behalf of all postdocs at their institution, irrespective of institutional designations regarding employment status.