Union groups rally at UCSF, meet with UCSD chancellor to discuss rights for academic researchers

ARU/UAW 5810 /Courtesy

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As part of an ongoing bargaining process with the UC system, one group from the Academic Researchers United/United Automobile Workers Local 5810 union rallied outside UCSF’s Genentech Hall while another group met with UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla to discuss the objectives and challenges of academic researchers, or ARs.  

The union, which represents almost 5,000 ARs throughout the UC system, delivered the message that researchers need job security and a clear path for advancement on July 11, according to the UAW 5810 website. Paid parental leave and nondiscrimination were among the topics discussed at the meeting. 

Luke Bonser, an associate researcher within the School of Medicine at UCSF, said the union hopes to address issues such as job security, bullying and gender inequity through collective bargaining. 

“Many Academic Researchers feel they are often treated as disposable rather than as critical pieces of UC’s research program – as is reflected by our lack of job security, non-transparent promotion policies, and low pay,” Bonser said in an email. 

According to the UAW 5810 website, UC refuses to grant the same protections to ARs against sexual harassment and discrimination that are currently in place for postdoctoral students. 

Kavitha Iyengar, president of UAW Local 2865, said UAW has fought for equity and has made considerable gains through its grievance process with UC Berkeley, which allows ARs to not have to go through the Title IX office. 

“In my experience, that process is slow and not focused on justice for survivors,” Iyengar said in reference to the Title IX process. “It’s more about the legal liability of the university.” 

Under the current UC proposal, sexual harassment and discrimination investigations could drag on indefinitely and would not guarantee protection to those who report cases, according to the UAW 5810 website. 

In addition to harassment and discrimination, talks of job security and compensation were also brought into the conversation. In June, at a UAW bargaining session at UC Berkeley, a framework was proposed to make AR salaries more competitive compared to those at UC’s peer institutions, according to the UAW 5810 website. 

Despite some progress having been made at the June meeting and a more recent meeting on July 18, no tentative agreements were made last week, according to the UAW 5810 website. In addition to the union’s demands, its bargaining team also reminded Khosla of UC’s refusal to provide a salary increase on July 1, which it said would violate California labor law. 

Maike Roth, a UCSF research assistant and ARU/UAW 5810 Bargaining Team member, believes the current UC system is not sustainable and undervalues the contributions of ARs. 

“Many women and underrepresented groups experience harassment and discrimination, and are routinely pushed out of careers in STEM. Researchers are forced to string together appointments and funding in a way that makes every day precarious,” Roth said in a UAW 5810 press release. “We love what we do, and we’re here asking UC to work with us to create sustainable career paths and policies … so that we can contribute fully and do better research.”

Contact Meera Srinivasan at [email protected].