UC academic researchers choose union representative

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Jacob Burnstein-Sturn/Courtesy

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The California Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, has informed Academic Researchers United, or ARU, that a majority of the University of California’s 5,000 academic researchers — non-tenure-track professional researchers, project scientists, specialists and more — have indicated that they would like to be represented by ARU/UAW 5810 as their exclusive union representative.

Pending official certification by PERB, this will allow academic researchers to begin collective bargaining with UC administration, during which they will reportedly seek improved working conditions, including further career development, increased job security and greater compensation.

“We’re an integral part of research here at the university, and that’s a very important part of the reputation that UC Berkeley and the UC system has,” said UC Berkeley project scientist Fred Bauman. “It just seems natural.”

Bauman said advocating for increased compensation and greater job security is important for academic researchers because many of them work on “soft money,” meaning they work on nonguaranteed research grants rather than a fixed payroll. He said the researchers are looking for greater recognition, noting that for several researchers, including himself, these nontenured positions become their careers.

According to Bauman, this is the first time academic researchers have attempted to unionize, but postdoctoral fellows, whom he describes as the nonpermanent, “younger category of academic researchers,” unionized in 2016. A press release from the union said academic researchers are joining more than 6,500 postdoctoral fellows “who already enjoy the benefits of unionization.”

As a whole, UAW represents 80,000 academic employees nationwide — including other UC employees — according to the press release.

“UAW 5810 is proud to have been chosen by another group of academic employees who recognize UAW’s strong commitment to standing up for worker protections like job security for international workers and gender equality,” said UAW 5810 President Anke Schennink in the press release. “We welcome UC Academic Researchers to our Local and look forward to the progress they will make by negotiating on equal footing with UC.”

UC Office of the President spokesperson Claire Doan said in an email that before the official certification, it is likely that UC will respond to PERB on the “appropriateness of some of the job titles” included in the proposed bargaining unit.

In her email, Doan affirmed UC’s support for the right of its employees to decide to unionize.

“The UAW represents other university employees, including our post-doctoral scholars and teaching assistants for whom we recently negotiated fair contracts,” Doan said in her email. “We look forward to doing likewise with the UAW if and when PERB certifies the UAW as the union that is entitled to bargain on behalf of a bargaining unit comprised of our academic researchers.”

Contact Alex Teodorescu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @AlexTeodorescu8.