University’s postdoctoral researchers’ union votes to authorize strike

Bowen Xiao/File
Members of UAW Local 2865, a union representing student-workers, protest in June 2013 amid contract negotiations with the University of California. Members of sister union UAW Local 5810, which represents postdoctoral researchers, recently voted to authorize their bargaining team to call for a strike amid an alleged delay in the bargaining process with UC administrators.

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The University of California’s postdoctoral researchers’ union has voted overwhelmingly to authorize its bargaining team to call for a strike after UC administration allegedly took more than two months to reply to proposals on issues such as compensation.

A press release by United Auto Workers Local 5810 accused the university of delaying the bargaining process, sending people to the table without the authority to bargain, being unresponsive to several of the union’s requests for information and refusing to honor previous agreements they had made regarding the process for bargaining over postdocs’ health benefits.

“They’re just not coming to the table, metaphorically, and sometimes, literally,” said Lydia Majure, a UC Berkeley postdoc in neuroscience and a trustee on the executive board of the union.

Since May, UAW 5810 has been bargaining for improved compensation and benefits, more diverse and inclusive working conditions, and increased job security and professional development, according to the union’s website. The union represents 6,000 postdocs and of the 3,590 postdocs who cast their vote, 96.6 percent voted to authorize the bargaining team to call for a strike if circumstances warrant it.

“Postdocs have been determined to stand together to show that we are invested,” Majure said. “We hope that the university will start to display a willingness to talk to us about the issues that really affect the postdocs’ lives. We do so much of the work that reflects the reputation of UC Berkeley and the other UC campuses.”

UC Office of the President spokesperson Claire Doan, however, said in an email that the parties were making progress on key priorities and that the university “continues to meet and confer in good faith” over the terms of a multi-year contract.

She added that strike authorization votes are not unusual and are routinely used as a bargaining tactic by the union to put pressure on the university, particularly when contract expiration approaches. According to Doan, the UCOP believes that postdoctoral scholars contribute greatly to the university’s research, but she said the union’s proposals would increase university costs by tens of millions of dollars.

Doan emphasized that the university hopes to reach an agreement with the union before the postdocs’ contract expires Sept. 30.

“We bargain at the table, not through the media,” Doan said in an email. “The University hopes the UAW focuses its efforts on continuing the progress reached thus far toward a deal.”

According to Majure, a strike is not guaranteed to occur. She added, however, that if a strike or a protest is approved, then the postdocs would democratically decide what form it would take.

UAW 5810 and the university have bargained for 14 days since May and 14 additional bargaining dates have been scheduled in September, prior to contract expiration.

Harini Shyamsundar is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.

The photo attached to a previous version of this article may have implied that members of UC postdoctoral student union UAW Local 5810 are pictured. In fact, members of student-worker union UAW Local 2865 are pictured.