Student researchers, postdoctoral students hold rally against union busting

photo of a rally
Kyle Garcia Takata /Staff
People shown rallying in protest. UC Berkeley students and researchers rallied Thursday in protest against campus's alleged union busting, urging campus to provide student researchers and postdoctoral students with better support.

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Update 10/30/2021: This article has been updated to include information from UC Office of the President spokesperson Ryan King.

Members of the United Auto Workers, or UAW, Student Researchers United and UAW Local 5810 for postdoctoral students hosted a joint rally against union busting in front of the Valley Life Sciences Building on Thursday.

The purpose of the demonstration was to call on campus to provide fairer working conditions for student researchers and postdoctoral students, according to speakers at the rally. Their demands emerged amid ongoing contract negotiations.

Sarah Arveson, UC Berkeley postdoctoral student in the Center for Integrative Planetary Sciences, said campus has an obligation to provide things such as childcare subsidies, protections against workplace discrimination and cost of living adjustments for student and postdoctoral researchers.

“As postdocs, we write grants,” Arveson said. “We teach. We mentor students and keep our labs running, and we deserve working conditions that are secure.”

Following the rally in front of the Valley Life Sciences Building, the crowd marched to Sproul Plaza to deliver its message to administrators directly.

Attendees chanted on the steps of Sproul Hall while a cohort of students entered the building to deliver a message to administrators.

In the past, there have been instances of people and organizations standing in solidarity with the unions, Tanzil Chowdhury, campus doctoral student in the material sciences and engineering department, noted.

Members of the California Congressional Delegation wrote a letter to campus admonishing the institution for allegedly breaking laws that protect unions, according to Chowdhury.

“We only have a few days before we launch a strike-authorization vote, and if you want to get out of this with any dignity at all, you will stop all of this nonsense and recognize our fundamental rights,” Chowdhury said.

An estimated 500 people attended the rally, according to Chowdhury. The crowd was composed of union members and undergraduate students expressing their support.

Sav Bowerfind, campus senior, noted the importance of the event for not just those directly affected by the contract negotiations, but for everyone in the Berkeley community.

“This is important to everyone because student researchers and postdocs are the backbone of this university,” Bowerfind said. “They bring in all of the research funding, they do all of the research, they produce the papers that give us those great international first rankings and they teach a lot of your classes.”

Raul Rodriguez, postdoctoral student in the campus School of Optometry and UAW 5810 elections committee chair, said the current system under which student researchers and postdoctoral students work is exploitive and needs changing.

Rodriguez called on campus to surrender some of its power to better serve those who work for it.

“We are asking for something that is within your capability to provide,” Rodriguez said. “I know that losing some power is scary, but the benefits for your workers and for the university are worth the small loss of control.”

In an email from the UC Office of the President spokesperson Ryan King, King expressed the university’s support for workers rights to unionization, and noted the UAW and Public Employment Relations Board are currently in discussions to finalize the composition of the new bargaining unit.

King said, however, that the university and the UAW have different perspectives about those included in demands who are not university employees as defined by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act.

“We hope to resolve this matter in a timely fashion,” King said in the email. “So that good-faith negotiations on the terms and conditions of employment with this new bargaining unit can commence.”

Anna Armstrong is a general assignment reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the strike authorization vote was tied to campus negotiations Nov. 9. In fact, the two are not connected.