State Senate candidate Nancy Skinner advocates for postdocs at union event

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Amy Shen/Staff

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At an event Tuesday in Downtown Berkeley, former State Assemblymember and current state senate candidate Nancy Skinner gave a speech advocating for the rights and benefits of postdoctoral scholars.

The event — attended by about 200 postdoctoral scholars — was organized by the Union for Postdocs, which represents postdoctoral scholars in the UC system. The union’s contract with the university ends in September, and the two parties have been bargaining since May to negotiate a new contract, with the union pushing for increased rights, benefits and wages for the researchers.

Skinner — who in the 1980s helped to form the Graduate Student Instructor Union — addressed a multitude of issues concerning postdoctoral scholars, including gender equity and sexual harassment. She stressed that the university is not treating these scholars with the respect merited by their research contributions.

“Postdocs are not being paid at a wage that respects your education and your expertise,” Skinner told her audience during her speech.

Among the major issues being addressed at the bargaining table are childcare support and parental leave, according to Union for Postdocs President Anke Schennink. During her speech, Skinner said that when she was a UC Berkeley graduate student, her student health care did not cover maternity care.

The union will be advocating for child care programs and paid parental leave, according to Schennink, who added that the event’s high turnout demonstrated that campus postdoctoral scholars are ready to act if the university “doesn’t take them seriously.”

“Female postdocs are disregarded,” said campus postdoctoral scholar Shishi Luo. “Postdocs should be able to take maternity leave without feeling like they’re sacrificing their income.”

According to campus law professor Mary Ann Mason, conditions for postdoctoral scholars, in particular female scholars, have improved in recent years. Mason noted, for instance, that while past UC policy did not guarantee that women who went on maternity leave would get their jobs back, current policy assures female professors two semesters off from teaching after having a child.

“Women do get a lot more flexibility (now),” Mason said. “Things are getting better, (and) there is a lot more awareness.”

Skinner said in her speech that because postdoctoral scholars are dedicated to their research, the UC system does not expect them to leave over a lack of benefits or low wages.

Skinner, a candidate for state senate in California’s ninth district, said that if elected she would work to ensure that employees are able to bargain with their employers to obtain a contract that reflects their needs.

“If I am ever asked to intervene in what I consider an unfair bargaining process, I will always be an advocate for open and fair collective bargaining,” Skinner said.

Contact Stina Chang at [email protected].

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  • ShadrachSmith

    Postdocs should be run out of the system. Get a freaking job :-)

  • jcsalameda

    To be fair, postdocs already get paid maternity leave (at 70% of pay)
    for at least 6 weeks, and longer if there is medical reason, and UC
    policy is consistent with both FMLA and the California Family Rights Act
    (CFRA). Note that postdocs also get 24 days of paid personal time off
    per year — that’s almost 5 weeks at FULL pay, which may be used for
    maternity or parental leave. They also get university holidays (about 13
    per year), and 12 days of sick leave per year — usable from the first
    day of employment. That’s a total of 49 working days per year, almost
    10 weeks on top of any maternity leave taken. Postdocs AND their
    dependents currently get full health benefits, which covers pregnancy
    and delivery. The HMO plan costs postdocs less than $10 per month for
    the postdoc only or about $44 for the postdoc, partner, and children.
    The PPO plan is $20 for the postdoc and $60 the whole family. Most
    Americans, including other categories of UC employees, would love to
    have postdoc benefits. Almost everyone agrees that postdocs are
    underpaid for their level of education, at least to live in the Bay
    Area, and many work long hours in the lab. Pay starts at $43,692, and
    there are mandatory annual increases of about 9%. Postdocs are paid
    through grants from the federal government or other external funding
    agencies, though, and those entities set limits on the salaries they
    will pay postdocs; therefore, any change in the payscale for postdocs really needs to
    start at the federal level. Note that the postdoc is a temporary
    position, and it is considered an extension of training and study, not a permanent career position. It’s
    almost impossible to get a faculty position in the sciences at a major
    university without first training as a postdoc, but jobs in industry
    (biotech, etc.) do not usually require postdoctoral training.

    • D Hart

      UC postdocs do not receive maternity leave: they receive short term disability leave at 6 weeks with 70% pay. Furthermore, non-birth parents, such as men and adopting parents, are not entitled to said disability leave. The NIH recommends 8 weeks of paid parental leave. Your statement that, “Postdocs are paid
      through grants from the federal government or other external funding
      agencies, though, and those entities set limits on the salaries they
      will pay postdocs; therefore, any change in the payscale for postdocs really needs to
      start at the federal level” is simply a bold faced lie. The NIH recommends an ~$50K/year minimum, which UC does not currently follow. Furthermore, in 2010, before the postdoc union existed, the UC flagrantly disregarded NIH’s salary guidelines of ~$40K/year (in 2010), with the minimum postdoc pay at $18K/year.

      • jcsalameda

        RE compensation, please take a look at the current NIH scale online:
        http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-16-047.html. You’ll see that it currently starts at $43,692.

        Your data on what postdocs made before unionization is also completely misinformed.

        The minimum, mandated, required salary for postdocs across the UC in 2009,
        before unionization was $37,400. See: http://www.ucop.edu/academic-personnel-programs/compensation/historic-academic-salary-scales/0910/salaryscales_ltr.pdf
        The NIH minimum at that time was $37,368, actually LOWER than the UC mandate. See: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-09-075.html

        • jcsalameda

          Postdocs DO get 49 working days per year off in the form of personal time off, sick time, and holidays. That’s more than regular staff employees.

          Yes, they get short term disability, which may be used for maternity leave, for 6 weeks, and yes it is at 70% of pay, and that’s what I already said. Again, UC policy is consistent with both FMLA and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).

          ALL employees who pay into State Disability Insurance, including MALE postdocs, are entitled to up to 6 weeks of partial pay to bond with a new child or care for a child with a serious health condition. The Paid Family Leave Act entitles eligible employees to receive partial pay while taking time off work to bond with a newborn baby, newly adopted or foster child within the first 12 months of the child’s arrival in the home. The benefits are available for up to 6 weeks each year. Employees can also receive benefits if they must take time off work to care for a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner with a serious health condition.

          What I don’t get is why some people want to make UC out to be such a villain.