Majority of UC system researchers ratify Academic Researcher Union contract

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The majority of UC system academic researchers ratified the first Academic Researcher Union contract with the university, which Academic Researchers United, or ARU, announced Tuesday.

The ratification vote, which ran Nov. 1-8, yielded a 98% margin, as there was a 2,450 to 53 vote to approve the contract. The contract became effective starting Nov. 8 and has a three-year life span, ending in September 2022, said Adam Zeilinger, insect ecologist for the campus department of environmental science, policy and management, in an email.

“It’s been our experience — and multiple studies have backed this up — that researchers are more productive when they have better working conditions: when they are paid fairly, have job security and are supported in their careers, they feel more secure and can focus on their work and plan for the future,” Zeilinger said in an email.

UC academic researchers include project scientists, specialists, researchers and coordinators of public programs, Zeilinger said in an email. By being stewards of innovation and discovery in biotechnology, engineering and many more areas, academic researchers’ roles are vital to advancing the UC system’s research mission that makes $6 billion annually, according to Zeilinger.

Some of the improvements brought about by the contract include 14-24% salary increases over the next three years and improved job security by providing longer appointments, as well as protection from unfair termination or layoffs.

Furthermore, the contract includes measures to protect researchers from issues such as discrimination and sexual harassment, according to an email from UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory associate research physicist and ARU/UAW 5810 bargaining team member Benjamin Lynch.

For instance, the contract’s nondiscrimination clause provides an “independent vehicle” to address issues surrounding the workplace’s potentially hostile environment, rather than the university playing the sole role of arbitrator, according to the email from Lynch. If an issue is filed as a formal grievance, a third party will determine the merits of the complaint.

UC did not address two of the union’s demands, namely paid parental leave and bridge funding, according to the email from Lynch. Lynch added that the academic researchers are currently in the phase of discussing and organizing activist campaigns to win the kind of improvements researchers “deserve on both those issues.”

Lynch said since the contract has been ratified, the union is working to train department and laboratory stewards and build support networks between departments and between campuses, as well as engage in on-the-ground organizing.

“We’re the first union of our kind in the entire country and we are charting new territory for the labor movement,” Lynch said in an email. “That being said, we have only just begun our fight. Now with the contract ratified, we’re in a position to start the real work…to create the kind of organization that can intervene with the full strength of collective mass action to assert our dignity and equality.”

Contact Maxine Mouly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.