A national coalition of United Auto Workers, or UAW, locals is lobbying for increased federal research funding and better worker protection amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as announced in a press release Monday.
Members of the coalition represent a population of more than 45,000 workers who are participating in research in university labs, according to a press release from UAW Local 2865 – a union of more than 19,000 tutors, readers, graduate student instructors and teaching assistants in the UC system. These labs include those at UC campuses, the University of Washington and Columbia University.
“We see the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in a number of different ways,” said UAW Local 2865 financial secretary Alec Uebersohn. “We see it affecting our institution and the ability for folks to continue studying and doing research at the university.”
A letter sent to the California Congressional Delegation on Thursday by UAW Local 2865 President Kavitha Iyengar and UAW Local 5810 — which represents more than 11,000 UC postdoctoral and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scholars and academic researchers — President Anke Schennink details both unions’ concerns and calls for action.
The letter “urges” the delegation to take action on six primary initiatives, including immediate financial support to allow critical research projects to continue, support for international students and scholars so that they may safely remain in place and additional financial aid funding for students.
The coalition also delivered letters to members of Congress on Monday, according to the press release.
Thousands of UAW academic workers are currently focused on COVID-19 research, which includes finding potential treatments and the development of a vaccine. According to the press release, many of the front-line academic workers have international citizenship and fixed-term appointments that limit their access to social safety net programs like unemployment insurance.
“The academic employees represented by the UAW play a critical role in the University of California’s tripartite instructional, research and public service mission, which has been even more critical in efforts to combat COVID-19,” said UC Office of the President spokesperson Stett Holbrook in an email.
Holbrook added that the UC system appreciates and supports the UAW’s efforts to secure additional funding.
Zoom meetings are also being organized to connect UC workers across the state to increase solidarity, Uebersohn added.
“If there are student workers out there that do want to be involved in this campaign, everyone counts,” Uebersohn said. “Everyone is a constituent of our representatives and emailing our union is the first step to being put in contact to a huge statewide network of people that are working on this.”