UC, postdoctoral researchers’ union reach tentative agreement on contract

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The University of California has reached an agreement with the postdoctoral researchers’ union to extend their current contract for one more year while further negotiations occur.

The contract for United Auto Workers 5810 was set to expire at the end of September. The union and the university have been engaged in negotiations for the past several months regarding disagreements over modifications to the contract.

“There are always difficult issues in negotiations of this sort, but both sides put in a lot of hard work,” said UC spokesperson Rebecca Trounson. “Everyone is happy there is a tentative agreement.”

In mid-September, postdoctoral students, or “postdocs,” protested at seven UC campuses, delivering signed petitions to their respective administrations urging for the university to adopt their terms in the upcoming negotiations.

One of the reasons the contract was extended was to better address uncertainties over a proposed U.S. Department of Labor regulation. This regulation increases the salary threshold for professional exempt employees, including UC postdocs. This means that employees below this threshold are eligible for overtime pay. Postdocs are often below the new proposed threshold and do not receive overtime.

The tentative agreement keeps postdoc wages attached to the National Institutes of Health scale, as they were before. Under this scale, pay is tied to experience and therefore increases about 6 percent every successive year. This increase includes a cost-of-living adjustment and a 4 percent step increase for each annual reappointment.

Representatives of both sides agreed on several modifications to the contract. The discussion about subsidizing child care for postdocs, however, will continue with a joint committee of union and UC representatives, which will meet twice in the next year to discuss the possibility of subsidies.

“This is a problem of gender equity,” said Anke Schennink, president of the postdoc union. “There’s a lot that can be improved there.”

Although several changes were made to the contract, it is a short-term agreement. UC and union representatives will reconvene in June of next year to begin negotiations for a long-term contract.

New additions include changes to the health care plan for postdocs. The previous plan was developed before the Affordable Care Act was passed and therefore was not compliant with the law. Now postdoc health care is compliant with the ACA and includes coverage for pre-existing conditions and contraception.

The new contract also includes increased rights for international postdocs. Schennink said that previously, when international postdocs were terminated, they risked losing their visa. This meant they could not be present for the grievance process if they felt that they were unjustly fired. Under the new agreements, the university must provide these international scholars with help in obtaining a travel visa and the funds for travel expenses.

Members of the union will vote on the tentative contract in the next two weeks, and the contract will expire in September of next year.

Contact Anderson Lanham at [email protected].