Academic researchers, postdoctoral research fellows protest amid labor negotiation

Ketki Samel/Staff

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About 100 people from Academic Researchers United/United Automobile Workers Local 5810, the union for postdoctoral research fellows, gathered outside California Hall at about noon Wednesday while in negotiations with the university for the first time. 

According to Academic Researchers United’s website, this is the first time that academic researchers, or ARs, are negotiating a separate contract with the UC system, as the union has only been recognized by the university for about six months. The website also said it expects to be in negotiations for a few months. 

“We’re working together with UC to craft a contract that builds upon past successes with other bargaining units and that improves the quality of UC research by improving the quality of life for those who do the research,” said Bo Tan, who spoke at the event, in an email. “We wanted to convey to UC that sustainable career paths for ARs can help us to deliver better research outcomes and build a better UC.”

Participants in the rally held signs, including some that read, “Job security can’t wait” and “Better working conditions = better research,” and wore matching blue shirts with the union’s logo on the back. According to Holly Aaron, a member of the union’s Berkeley Organizing Committee, many participants attended the event to support measures such as paid family leave, equity and protection from harassment. 

According to UC Office of the President spokesperson Sarah McBride, the UC “recognizes the significant contributions” that researchers make in the UC system and that UC is prioritizing coming to a multiyear agreement with “fair pay” and “excellent benefits.” 

“We don’t have the regular protections of California law. The university isn’t bound by those for us,” Aaron said. “Normally I put my head down and just want to work. I don’t want my job to be worried about my job. I want the university to give us a seat at the table.”

According to Tan, the union does not currently have any concrete plans for future events. He said the progress of the bargaining will determine whether members organize again.

Senior staff writer Ketki Samel contributed to this report.

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC