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Postdocs, student researchers call for strike authorization vote in face of ongoing negotiations

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UAW members are calling for a $20,000 wage increase, monthly childcare payments and the remission of the non-residential state tuition fees, as doctoral students struggle to keep up with inflation rates.


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OCTOBER 11, 2022

Nearly all of the 1,500 graduate students, postdocs and student researchers present at Memorial Glade raised their hands with a resounding “aye!” during the UAW members meeting Thursday, unanimously calling for a statewide strike authorization vote.

The call for a strike vote comes amid ongoing contract negotiations between the UAW — a union of 48,000 graduate students, postdocs and student researchers — and the UC system. Such bargaining efforts have been underway for more than a year.

The meeting followed the passing of the “historic” academic workers’ protection against abusive workplace conduct. Despite the win, agreements on wages, childcare and non-residential state tuition have remained elusive, according to a statement released by UAW Local 5810.

“We’ve tried everything from reasoning with the universities to every action in the book,” said Lexie McIsaac, UC Berkeley chemistry postdoc, during the meeting. “Nothing has been able to compel them to give us a reasonable wage proposal that even matches inflation, let alone matches the cost of living.”

Many union members, especially doctoral students, are considered rent-burdened, according to Tarini Hardikar, a campus graduate student researcher of chemistry and member of the SRU-UAW bargaining team. In other words, many of the members spend more than 30% of their income on rent; some even pay more than 50%.

The decision to move forward with the strike vote is not yet official, but according to Lawrence Berkeley National Lab postdoctoral researcher Olivia Gunther, the UAW is confident in authorizing the strike vote. If “circumstances justify,” they will proceed with a strike, Gunther noted.  

If authorized, the strike vote would occur near the end of October as the expiration date of current union contracts with the university draws imminent. If the vote passes, the strike would begin mid November.

“Over the many months that UAW has been at the bargaining table with UC, academic workers have not seen enough progress from UC on the main issues we are facing,” Gunther said in an email. “In fact, our unions have had to file many charges against UC to compel them to bargain in good faith.”

Postdocs currently have a starting salary of roughly $54,500 per year, according to the UC Office of the President, or UCOP. 

At Stanford, the starting postdoc salary is more than $68,000 per year, according to the Stanford Office of Postdoctoral Affairs website.

The UAW is proposing a wage increase to $70,000 for postdocs. For doctoral students, the proposal would increase wages from roughly $36,000 to $54,000, according to a statement released by UAW Local 5810.

The union is also seeking monthly childcare payments and the remission of the non-residential state tuition fees. Samuel Chan, UC Berkeley doctoral student of political science, said the fees place unfair burdens on international doctoral students.

“The University is pleased that we continue to make progress with the UAW and we are committed to reaching full agreements, including economics, as soon as possible,” said Erika Cervantes, UCOP spokesperson, in an email. “We’ve signed tentative agreements on key subjects such as Respectful Work Environment, Non-Discrimination in Employment, Health and Safety and many other articles.”

Contact Ben Klein at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc.

OCTOBER 11, 2022