Postdoc union reaches tentative agreement with University of California

After 2 weeks of strikes and negotiating involving thousands of early career researchers across the University of California system, the union representing UC postdocs and academic researchers announced today it has reached a tentative agreement with administrators. The new contract will raise the salaries of most postdocs and academic researchers and yield other benefits, including childcare subsidies, paid parental leave, and public transportation passes. The bargaining units that represent graduate student researchers and teaching assistants are still negotiating with UC administrators.

“We’ll get all the postdocs—by the end of the contract—above $70,000, which was our goal,” says Neal Sweeney, president of the union and a former molecular biology postdoc at UC Santa Cruz. “It goes a long way to addressing the cost of living” problems in the state, he adds, which had been a focal point of the strike.

The union, which represents about 12,000 of the 48,000 striking workers, will continue to march on the picket lines until the agreement is ratified by the union membership, a process Sweeney says will start within the next week. In a press conference, he also expressed support for the graduate students still negotiating. “We’re calling on the university to … make sure they can reach fair agreements to recognize the contributions that our colleagues make.”

On the picket lines today, there’s been a feeling of “elation, excitement,” says Zach Goldberg, a Ph.D. student in the biological sciences at UC San Diego and a volunteer organizer for the strike on his campus. “It’s an amazing contract. … I think that everyone realizes that this contract is a lot stronger than anything that postdocs could have won without” striking alongside the other bargaining units, he adds. Goldberg is hopeful the negotiations involving graduate students will lead to a similarly satisfying contract. “I’m feeling really strong, really good. I’m feeling like we have a lot of power right now.”

Stacey Frederick, a bargaining team member and program coordinator for the California Fire Science Consortium at UC Berkeley, points to new antiharassment and antibullying language in the contract, as well as increases in paid parental and family leave. “Now we have 8 weeks at 100% pay, which is a really big deal for folks who are wanting to start a family while working here.”

There’s always room for improvement, says Jade Moore, a postdoc in radiation oncology at UC San Francisco. “We can always have more childcare subsidies; we can always have more leave, as well as higher increases in salaries.” But the new agreement “sets the standard for what we can do moving forward.”

UC administrators didn’t respond to a request for comment. But according to a statement posted earlier this month, “UC’s primary goal in these negotiations is multiyear agreements that recognize these employees’ important and highly valued contributions to UC’s teaching and research mission with fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, and a supportive and respectful work environment.”

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