Postdoctoral researchers at 7 UC campuses demand terms of new contract

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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With the contract between the University of California and the postdoctoral researchers’ union set to expire in two weeks, postdocs at seven UC campuses delivered to their respective chancellors more than 3,000 signatures, calling for the university to adopt their terms in the next contract.

The demands of better, family-friendly policies; equal rights for international postdocs; and fair compensation were developed by the union — United Auto Workers 5810 — before bargaining began in May, according to UC Davis postdoc and UAW 5810 President Anke Schennink. The signatures used in the protest represent a majority of the university’s 6,000 postdocs who support the union’s bargaining team in issuing a vote to authorize a strike.

“I’m hoping that the university administration will see us as a serious, united force,” said Lydia Majure, a UC Berkeley postdoc in neuroscience and a head steward for the union. “Because if they see us, they really can’t rely on indifference from the postdocs. We’re not indifferent — we care, and we’re willing to fight.”

UC Office of the President spokesperson Kate Moser said in an email that the university continues to negotiate in good faith with UAW 5810 and hopes to reach an agreement before the end of the month. UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus supports the university’s efforts to “reach a fair and amicable resolution in the near future.”

The university has seen multiple labor disputes culminate in protests and negotiated contracts in the past two years. Four other systemwide union bodies — the service union, academic student employees union, patient care union and newly formed physicians’ and dentists’ union — have gone on strike since 2013. Most recently, the ASUC Student Union Board reexamined a contract with Chartwells, a private contractor for the new Student Union complex, to increase wages for contracted employees.

At UC Berkeley, approximately 20 postdocs donned matching T-shirts and walked into California Hall, where they presented the signatures and requested to meet with Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele. After being told Steele was unavailable, they read the names of other officials they hoped to speak with but were ultimately asked to leave the building.

“We think that getting over 3,000 names sends a powerful message, and the idea was to deliver the message directly to the people empowered to make decisions,” said union representative Jacob Burstein-Stern.

Though UC Berkeley UAW 5810 unit chair Carly Ebben said she was satisfied with the turnout of the protest, she was disappointed that the group was unable to meet with anyone in the administration. She added that although progress has been made with specific aspects of the contract, the union was prepared for a “drawn-out” bargaining process regarding benefits and compensation.

With regard to family-friendly policies, Ebben said the union is seeking subsidies for childcare and parental leave from the university. The union’s demands also attempt to help international postdocs who feel they have been unjustly fired, because they cannot go through the university’s grievance process if their working visa requires them to leave the country, Schennink said.

The chancellors of all the UC campuses will meet this week to discuss finances for the 2015-16 school year.

Senior staff writer Ariel Hayat contributed to this report.

Contact Pamela at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @PamReporting.