This Thursday, May 26, thousands of research and technical staff at the University of California will go on strike. We do this with great regret, but we feel we must strike in order to protect the research, teaching and public service we care so much about.
After more than one year of negotiations, the University has repeatedly failed to meet its legal obligations to negotiate in good faith in many ways, including failing to provide information about how much money they receive.
From AIDS research to nanotechnology to protecting endangered wildlife, researchers at the University of California broaden the forefront of science like no other institution in the world. We are proud of the advances that we have helped UC make in the past. But the University now faces a crisis. One-third of the research support staff leaves every year.
Why are researchers leaving? Wages for researchers at UC have fallen 30 percent behind inflation in the last 15 years despite adequate funds from the state and research grants. Increasing health care costs and parking fees combined with stagnating wages have created a situation where staff can no longer afford to work at the University of California.
Over the past two decades the University has transformed from an employer of choice to a revolving-door employer. UC number crunchers only concerned with the bottom line calculate that as long as they can fill a position, it does not matter how many qualified and skilled staff leave. The six-month training, the accumulated scientific knowledge and experience fall victim to a high turnover of underpaid staff. And our research suffers as a result.
Research grants and state funds have been adequate to support increases in pay, but UC administrators have diverted funds dedicated for staff raises to other purposes. The University automatically takes 45 to 55 percent of any research grant for “administrative” purposes. Over the past decade, state funds have allocated 15 percent more for wage increases than UC distributed. This 15 percent would have made up some of the lag behind the market rates for our work. What happens to that money?
We have asked the University that question and received no answer. The California State Legislature has required the University to report on these funds, and after a year of asking, has still not received an answer.
Funds dedicated for researchers’ wage increases must go to their designated purpose. With some confidence that we will receive fair and regular increases, we can get back to the research, education and public service that we are so proud of.
We do not want to strike. We remain extremely loyal to the projects and departments we work for. But our work is too important to us and to the community that we serve. There are millions of people who are depending on our research in the hopes that we can find a cure for what ails them.
Our mission is to protect these important projects. We hope that you will join us on May 26 on the picket line to hold the University accountable for fixing the research crisis caused by high staff turnover by meeting its legally mandated bargaining obligations.
Jelger Kalmijn is a staff research associate at UC San Diego’s Dept. of Psychiatry.