Graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and academic researchers have won protections against bullying and abusive workplace conduct in a tentative agreement with the UC system.
The agreement — reached amid ongoing negotiations between unions and the university — provides employees with administrative recourse for reporting abusive conduct. Florian Drescher, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher in the plant and microbiology department and a head steward of Berkeley’s UAW Local 5810 joint council, argued that the power principal investigators hold over their researchers and students makes protections against bullying all the more important.
“(Principal investigators) are well connected with their peers and often victims of abusive conduct are hesitant to come forward and report what is going on, out of fears that the (principal investigator) might torpedo their careers,” Drescher said in an email.
Drescher added that the win was “precedent-setting,” and said in an email the Respectful Work Environment article will provide the “strongest contract protections” for academic workers against workplace misconduct.
Negotiations between the university and the four bargaining units under the UAW have been in progress for varying periods of time. Postdoctoral scholars have been bargaining since July 2021, according to Tarini Hardikar, a UC Berkeley graduate student researcher of chemistry and member of the SRU-UAW bargaining team.
Emboldened by its recent victory with the Respectful Work Environment article, the UAW is continuing to seek increased wages, more robust childcare subsidies and access to greener public transit, according to a UAW Local 5810 update.
“The status quo often benefits the institution, whether it’s benefiting their reputation or whether it’s benefiting them by convenience,” Hardikar said. “But when you have 48,000 workers across the state come together and demand for something, fight and work really hard to win these protections, I think even UC has to stop and listen.”
The SRU-UAW — one of the four bargaining units — is new, only having been recognized by the university in December 2021 after nearly 11,000 members voted to authorize a strike.
The ongoing bargaining being conducted by the union could eventually lead to the ratification of its first-ever contract with the university, Hardikar noted.
The expiration dates of the remaining three bargaining units are rapidly approaching as their respective contracts end late October, added Sarah Arveson, a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Integrative Planetary Science at UC Berkeley and vice president of UAW 5810.
When the contracts expire, the decision to either extend them or to proceed bargaining out of contract must be made. If the UAW chooses to bargain out of contract, the clause forbidding striking will be null and void, Arveson added.
The UAW will be meeting on Memorial Glade on Thursday to discuss how to proceed. According to Arveson, more than 1,000 people have already RSVP’d.
“We are pleased that we continue to make progress with the UAW and we are committed to reaching agreements as soon as possible,” said UC Office of the President spokesperson Ryan King in an email. “Our goal in these negotiations is to come to multi-year agreements that recognize these employees’ essential contributions to the UC community with fair pay, family-friendly benefits, and a supportive and respectful work environment.”