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Postdoctoral Union Continues Contract Bargaining with UC

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From left to Right: Amy Pandya-Jones, Melissa Agnello, Anke Schennink and Elizabeth Zuniga-Sanchez address the UC Regents and Janet Napolitano during the open comments section of the meeting.
From left to Right: Amy Pandya-Jones, Melissa Agnello, Anke Schennink and Elizabeth Zuniga-Sanchez address the UC Regents and Janet Napolitano during the open comments section of the meeting.

The union representing over 6,000 University of California postdoctoral researchers, United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 5810, voted earlier this month to authorize its bargaining team to strike “if circumstances justify.” Last week, after officially adding postdocs from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to the union, the bargaining team spent three days in Oakland with UC management and reached a series of tentative agreements leading up to the expiration of their contract on Sep. 30.

UAW Local 5810, which bargains with UC on behalf of its unionized postdocs, including more than 350 at UC Irvine, claims that UC has been unresponsive in the union’s requests for information and delayed the bargaining process for more than two months. In addition, the union complains that UC sent representatives to the table without the authority to bargain, and refused to honor previously-made agreements regarding the process for bargaining over postdocs’ health benefits.

On Sep. 1, in response to these complaints, UAW Local 5810 announced that an enthusiastic internal vote of 96.6 percent had authorized their bargaining team to strike if their grievances continue. Of the 3,590 union members who cast a ballot, 3,468 voted to authorize the strike.

According to UAW Local 5810 president Anke Schennink, the union is still attempting to negotiate a contract with UC before their current contract ends.

This wave of postdoc participation — a majority of all postdocs — sends a message that postdocs are paying attention to what happens at the bargaining table,” said Schennink. “Postdoc work is incredibly valuable to UC and society more broadly. We encourage UC to bargain in good faith and work with the union to reach a mutually satisfactory contract by the time the current agreement expires.

Proposed changes to the current contract include raising postdocs’ starting salary from $47,500 to $51,000 plus an annual cost of living adjustment, and granting postdocs a $600 per month child care subsidy plus 8 weeks of paid parental leave, as they currently receive no family-based subsidy or leave.

During UC Regents’ Sept. 14 meeting in Oakland, President Schennink and three postdocs represented by UAW Local 5810 – Melissa Agnello, Amy Pandya-Jones and Elizabeth Zuniga-Sanchez — urged the Board of UC Regents and their president, Janet Napolitano, to reconsider the union’s contract proposals. According to the cohort, their goals for a new contract include “diversity promotion,” “family-friendly policies,” “fair pay for postdocs” and longer postdoctoral appointments.

“This is an opportunity to impact UC’s ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest scholars from around the world, especially women and people of color,” said Schennink during the meeting.  

Two days earlier, on Sept. 12, the union expanded with the addition of postdoctoral scholars from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, certified by the California Public Employee Relations Board.

After bargaining with UC Office of the President on Sep. 14 and 15, the newly-expanded union reached a series of tentative agreements which “either preserved the current contract language or made improvements to postdocs’ ability to enforce their rights,” according to Schennink.

However, Schennink wrote in an update on UAW Local 5810’s website, the union is “still waiting for substantive responses from UC on the issues that postdocs care most about: compensation, paid parental leave, health benefits, childcare, job security, et cetera.

UAW Local 5810 will bargain on Sept. 21 and 22 in Oakland, and Sept. 23 at their union office in Berkeley. The union and UC are scheduled to bargain for eight more days before their current contract expires.