Just before their previous contract expired in October, University of California and the UC postdoctoral union (UAW 5810) reached a one-year agreement that union members will vote to approve next week.

With the union threatening to stage a UC-wide strike, negotiators from UC and the union were able to find common ground on issues that had eluded consensus in prior negotiations. UC agreed to yearly raises and improved healthcare benefits for all postdocs as well as expanded rights for international postdoctoral researchers. More than 6,000 postdocs throughout the 10 UC campuses will have the chance to vote from Oct. 19 to 27 on whether to approve or reject the contract.

If approved, the agreement would also require the University to form a new Family-Friendly Committee to explore how to reimburse postdocs for childcare.
Union president and former UC Davis postdoc Anke Schennink said the union was able to remove any salary reductions from the agreement in the last hour of negotiations.

“The University had proposed a number of different wage cuts, and they would basically lower the take-home pay for postdocs,” Schennink said. “That was definitely a point that was talked about until the last moment.”

Under the terms of the agreement, postdocs will receive yearly raises based on the National Institute of Health’s inflation index.

The amount of University assistance offered to international postdocs had also been a sticking point in previous negotiations, but Schennink said the contract’s new terms on international postdocs is one of the “important improvements” over the previous contract.

“For example, in case of the termination of a postdoc, the University will assist in helping the postdoc to get a travel visa to come back for a hearing if a postdoc has to leave the country because of this,” Schennink said.

According to Schennink, the contract also expands postdocs’ healthcare coverage.

“The plans will be at the same cost or slightly cheaper, but the new healthcare plan will be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, which is important basically for the reason that preventative care and contraception will be available with no co-pay,” Schennink said.

Schennink said she thought the threat of postdocs authorizing a strike coerced the University to make some concessions.

“I definitely think [the strike] has been important and that resulted in the improvements that we have now, but the University will not talk about that,” Schennink said.

Schennink said in a previous Daily Nexus article titled “Postdoc Student Union Makes Case for Fair Pay, Job Security” that members of UC’s negotiating team “don’t respect postdocs.”

UCSB’s materials department postdoc and Santa Barbara unit chair for the union Patrick Callahan said postdocs do “all kinds of things,” including guiding graduate students through school and doing in-depth research.

“Obviously, UCSB is a research university and postdocs are pretty important to getting high-level research done,” Callahan said. “They’re people who already have PhDs, so they are highly trained.”

Postdoctoral researchers often work under the direction of a professor while training for a faculty position, according to analyst Billy Ko, who works in UCSB’s academic personnel department.

“Postdocs typically spend five years getting training and mentorship with a faculty member,” Ko said.

Callahan said because the terms included many improvements that he and other postdocs were pushing for, he expected a majority of postdocs to approve the contract.

“Everyone I’ve talked to is happy that we’ve reached a tentative agreement … So I would imagine it’s going to be exactly the same, where the majority of the postdocs support the agreement that the bargaining team got for us,” Callahan said. “I have to imagine that a majority of postdocs will be voting to ratify the agreement.”

Schennink said although the union accomplished many of its goals, members still have issues to address during next year’s negotiations.

“We would definitely like to make further improvements in family-friendly benefits and gender equity in the University,” Schennink said. “There can be a lot of improvements there. That’s definitely something that will stay on the agenda for next year.”

If the new agreement is ratified, it will be effective until Sept. 30, 2016.

A version of this story appeared on p. 7 of the Oct. 15, 2015 edition of the Daily Nexus.

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