‘A long time coming’: UC academic researchers file for union representation

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Academic Researchers United/UAW Local 5810/Courtesy

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A majority of the nearly 5,000 academic researchers employed by the UC system filed a petition Friday to join the UC postdoctoral researcher union by creating the Academic Researchers United/UAW Local 5810, or ARU/UAW.

More than 3,000 UC academic researchers signed authorization cards in support of forming the union, which were submitted to the Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, on Friday for certification.

If certified, academic researchers will join the postdoctoral researcher union, or UAW Local 5810, but will elect a bargaining committee made up of solely academic researchers and have a separate bargaining process with the UC Office of the President, or UCOP.

Academic researchers, according to UCLA project scientist Christina Priest, conduct research for their respective universities but are not postdoctoral researchers or faculty members. She added that if certified, the union will be open to all UC academic researchers, including project scientists, researchers and specialists.

“This is a really exciting time for academic people,” Priest said. “There’s a lot of awareness right now about working conditions and what’s good for workers and how we can improve the system for people that don’t necessarily have power otherwise.”

Fred Bauman, a campus project scientist at the Center for the Built Environment, said academic researchers have been overlooked and under-acknowledged in the UC system, which tends to place more focus on faculty and students.

Bauman added that the new union is “a long time coming” and is important because academic researchers are largely funded on “soft money,” meaning that their jobs rely on outside sources, such as research grants, and aren’t guaranteed by state funding like a faculty position is.

Before becoming academic researchers, both Priest and campus associate specialist Isabella Rauch were members of postdoctoral researchers’ unions. Both academic researchers said that after transitioning to their new positions, however, they experienced exponentially higher health care costs.

“It became increasingly clear that by not being represented by a union, academic researchers are at a big disadvantage because they don’t have a say in a lot of things,” Rauch said.

The certification of a union is a “numbers game,” according to Bauman. In this case, Bauman said, ARU/UAW needed the support of 50 percent of academic researchers in the UC system as a whole, not at each individual campus.

According to UCOP spokesperson Danielle Smith, the next step in the certification process is for PERB to verify that a majority of UC academic researchers do, in fact, support union representation.

The University of California neither encourages nor discourages unionization,” Smith said in an email. “We support our employees’ right to choose for themselves whether or not to be in a union.”

Amber Tang is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ambertang_dc.