UCOP reaches tentative agreement with academic researchers

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The UC system announced Monday that it reached a tentative agreement with academic researchers in the United Auto Workers union, or UAW.

The agreement — which was reached after five months of bargaining between union members and the university —  focuses on four major areas: compensation and benefits, rights and protections, working conditions and contract enforcement and union rights. Members of Academic Researchers United, which is part of the larger UAW Local 5810 union, will vote to ratify the terms of the tentative agreement by Friday.

Luke Bonser, an associate researcher at UCSF, said the terms of the agreement were a significant win for academic researchers, or ARs, because it will secure better pay and job security for more than 4,000 ARs in the UC system.

“The Tentative Agreement is a huge step forward in achieving Academic Researchers working conditions that reflect our contributions and advance UC’s research enterprise,” Bonser said in an email. “These improvements will enable ARs to thrive in their careers, and enable UC to recruit and retain the best talent to make their research enterprise even stronger.”

The proposed terms of the agreement would guarantee raises for ARs that would amount to increases as high as 14% to 24% over the lifetime of the contract, which will last until Sept. 2022. If approved, the agreement would also provide ARs with more advantages in the form of benefit programs, more flexible guidelines on leaves of absence as well as structured sick leave and vacation days.

According to a press release published by Academic Researchers United, the agreement was the first of its kind made between ARs and the university. Bonser added that the major takeaway of the agreement was that it created working conditions that recognized the contributions of ARs to the university’s research.

Members of the union faced some challenges — including delays — in the earlier phases of the bargaining process, according to Bonser. He added that the union held large rallies and signed petitions to put pressure on the university and overcome these delays. According to UC Office of the President, or UCOP, spokesperson Andrew Gordon, the bargaining process between the university and the newly formed union progressed more quickly than expected.

“Negotiations took five months, which is a relatively short period of time, especially considering this was a first contract for a new bargaining unit; first contracts often take much longer,” Gordon said in an email. “Furthermore, it was important to reach an agreement that both sides believe is equitable.”

Academic Researchers United also published a document detailing the differences in working conditions for ARs with and without the contract in place. According to the document, workers saw salary scales increase by an average of 1.7% over the past 10 years. Additionally, the university could change retirement plans and employee contribution rates arbitrarily. Under the terms of the proposed contract, the salary scales would increase by a far greater amount and any changes to pension plans must be made after bargaining with the union.

According to a press release published by UCOP, the aim of negotiating the contract was to create a multiyear agreement that would recognize the importance of the work done by ARs in the UC system. Bonser added that ARs perform a number of key roles in the university and include project scientists, specialists, public program coordinators and researchers.

While the proposed terms of the contract provided workers with a set of clearly defined, enforceable protections, Bonser said the work of the union was far from over.

“We look forward to continuing to advocate and are already looking to the future,” Bonser said in an email. “In particular, as a new father, while we did win the removal of limitations on the use of sick and vacation time that AR parents can use for purposes of caring for a new child, I think that it’s critical that we build on the momentum of this victory so that we can fight for and win dedicated paid parental leave for all ARs.”

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.