State Senate candidate Nancy Skinner advocates for postdocs at union event

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].