Ongoing negotiation regarding worker’s compensation proves frustrating for postdoctoral students within UC

University of California postdoctoral students will have the option to vote online or by mail Oct. 1 through 9 on whether to allow their union’s (UAW 5810) bargaining team to call for a strike if contract negotiations with UC fall through.

The union, which represents more than 6,000 postdoctoral students across all 10 UC campuses, is demanding the University clarify overtime pay regulations, decrease the salary gap between women and men, provide childcare and increase job security for international postdocs. A supermajority of two-thirds is required to authorize a potential strike. The bargaining team has been negotiating with the University since May, and the union’s current contract, signed in 2010, expired on Sep. 30.

Union president Anke Schennink said postdocs are increasingly frustrated with what they see as the University negotiating the team’s lack of concern for reaching a collective bargaining agreement.

“They don’t act seriously,” Schennink said. “They don’t respect postdocs, but also they have been really, really slow. It takes them a really long time to respond on major issues like compensation.”

According to a press release the union issued, the lack of childcare support for postdoctoral students has forced many women out of their programs.

Schennink, who was a postdoc in UC Davis’ animal science department for four years, said postdocs do “a whole lot of everything” for UC schools.

“Postdocs do research at the University — stem cell research, new green technology, astrophysics,” Schennink said.

One of the union’s demands focuses on a proposal by President Barack Obama earlier this year that would require overtime pay for those making less than $50,400 but working more than 40 hours per week. Given the average postdoctoral student at UC earns $47,870, many would be eligible for overtime under the proposal, which could go into effect next year.

In a public letter to the U.S. Department of Labor, UC associate vice president of federal governmental relations John Falle said UC should be exempt from the proposed requirement.

“Given the uniqueness of the activities that postdoctoral scholars and specialists perform, UC believes they should be excluded from the proposed rule,” Falle said.

Falle also said monitoring hours would be “extremely difficult,” potentially leading UC to reduce the number of postdoctoral students it employs.

“University research would suffer if the University is forced to lay off or not hire these key personnel,” Falle said.

Schennink said it is difficult for the union to negotiate with UC because neither side is certain whether or not Obama’s proposal will ultimately apply to postdoctoral students working for the University.

“We want to make sure that postdocs are being paid fairly, and right now there is a lot of uncertainty about those regulations, and the university is hiding behind the uncertainty,” Schennink said.

Schennink said postdoctoral students going on strike would send a strong message to the UC system.

“If they were not there, this would have a huge effect on the research of the University,” Schennink said. “We have the feeling that we’re not being valued, that the University is not caring about us and not respecting us.”

A version of this story appeared on p. 3 of the Thursday, Oct. 1 print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
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