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Progress made, but strike of UC academic workers drags on

Students and academic workers walk a picket line at UC Davis. (Photo: David Kn

As final exams neared in the 10-campus University of California system, United Auto Workers Local 5810 representing postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers announced that it reached a tentative five-year agreement with the University amid a strike that began on Nov. 14. This bargaining unit with 12,000 of the 48,000 striking UC workers will vote to ratify the tentative new contract to run through Sept. 30, 2027.

“Our dedicated colleagues are vital to UC’s research activities and we are very pleased to have reached agreements that honor their many important contributions,” said Letitia Silas, executive director of system wide labor relations, in a statement. “These agreements also uphold our tradition of supporting these employees with compensation and benefits packages that are among the best in the country.”

Academic researchers and postdoctoral scholars will remain on strike in sympathy with academic student employees and student researchers before the Local 5810 membership votes on ratifying a tentative agreement with UC.

With widespread consumer price hikes, UAW members that UC employs are pursuing higher wage income and better benefits.

“We are proud to have reached agreements that address the soaring cost of living,” said Neal Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5810, in a statement, “and reflect the value of our contributions at UC. These agreements represent a new, best-in-class model that will improve quality of life—and the quality of research—for scientists across the U.S. It is now time for UC to make serious proposals to academic student employees and student researchers and to reach fair agreements that recognize the contributions these workers make.”

Meanwhile, union graduate researchers, scholars and teaching assistants in UAW 2865 and Student Researchers United-UAW remain on strike.

In a show of solidarity, academic researchers and postdoctoral scholars will remain on strike in sympathy with academic student employees and student researchers before the Local 5810 membership votes on ratifying a tentative agreement with UC. According to the union, it has been 13 days since the student researchers made a proposal on compensation to UC negotiators, without a reply.

Adam A. Caparco, Ph.D., 30, is a postdoctoral scholar in Nano engineering at UC San Diego. He is upbeat about the current course of negotiations.

“We’re really excited about this tentative agreement,” he says. “This contract addresses a lot of issues postdoctoral scholars face, including the high cost of living near UC campuses, winning more family-friendly benefits and job security for international workers. Personally, I’m most excited for the raise, as I will see around a $16,000 raise between now and next October with our new salary base and raise structure.”

Postdoctoral scholars in Local 5810 will in part get pay raises of 20% or higher and $2,500 to $2,800 in annual child care subsidies.

The tentative agreement also benefits international postdoctoral scholars, who comprise two-thirds of this unit in the UC system, according to Caparco, by providing longer initial appointments. “That will help a lot with the costs of visas and having to return to a home country for paperwork. For all workers, these longer appointments will also alleviate the anxiety around our lack of job security. We’re all really passionate about the work we do, and I think these are important steps to make sure our value to the university is reflected in our wages and work conditions.”

Postdoctoral scholars in Local 5810 will in part get pay raises of 20% or higher and $2,500 to $2,800 in annual child care subsidies over the course of the tentative contract. Academic researchers will receive eight weeks of parental and family leave paid at 100%, a bump from 70%.

Tanzil Chowdhury, 24, is a graduate student research assistant at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and a bargaining team member for SRU-UAW. He tips his hat to Local 5810 for reaching a tentative agreement with UC, and wants such progress for the two bargaining units still in negotiations.

“I’m extremely proud of my postdoctoral scholar and academic researcher colleagues for coming to their historic tentative agreements,” Chowdhury says, “which address key concerns like greater appointment lengths and wage increases that address the cost of living. As a graduate student researcher, I believe this clears the way for us to arrive at similarly strong tentative agreements and hope the university is now willing to bargain with us seriously, which they have not been in recent weeks.”

Whatever the eventual outcome is for the UC strike, the biggest in the history of U.S. higher education, it could energize comparable workers.

Alejandra Domenzain is an academic researcher with UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program. For her, employer accountability for the strike is central.

“The tentative agreements show that UC can be held accountable for more livable wages and basic benefits,” Domenzain says. “It shouldn’t take a strike for UC to bargain fairly and offer a decent contract to its workers; their unfair labor practices forced a huge level of sacrifice and disruption. I will celebrate when all UC academic workers get the pay and support they deserve.”

Whatever the eventual outcome is for the UC strike, the biggest in the history of U.S. higher education, it could energize comparable workers. “I know other unionized postdoctoral scholars are looking at our wins in this contract campaign and using them as a launch point for their own negotiations,” says Caparco. In fact, more than 1,600 part-time, adjunct faculty members who are members of UAW Local 7902 at The New School in New York City walked off the job on Nov. 17 for reasons similar to the UC union strikers.

Editor’s Note: Seth Sandronsky lives and works in Sacramento. He is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com.

 

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