University of California reaches agreement with unionized postdocs

Aug 26 2010 Published by under Careerism, NIH Careerism, Postdoctoral Training

We pay some degree of special attention to the doings of the University of California system because it is so huge when it comes to US NIH-funded biomedical research. Policies that exist at the UC campuses affect a large percentage of our target audience and for that matter, many of our colleagues and friends. There is also an assumption on my part that the very size of the UC means that it has an influential effect on policies across the US and maybe even worldwide.

The UAW recently announced that they had reached an agreement with the University of California system (provost confirmation) and about ~6,500 postdoctoral researchers/fellows represented by the UAW.

The UAW and the University of California today jointly announced that UC postdoctoral scholars voted to ratify their first union contract. The union announced that postdocs approved the contract by an overwhelming vote of 2588 to 121, or 96 percent in favor, in balloting that concluded Aug. 11. The postdocs’ union, Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/UAW, and UC reached a tentative agreement on July 31.

No word on whether hilarious Congressional threats to investigate UC uses of federal money had any effect on the process.

An overview of the agreement can be found in this pdf.

One main outcome of this initial agreement is to put the UC postdocs on the NIH NRSA salary scale as a default minimum ($37,740 / yr for new postdocs with less than a year's experience at present). It seems to be phased in for existing postdocs and in immediate effect for any new hires.

There are also some points about benefits but since I'm not particularly familiar with existing UC postdoc benefit policies I'm not going to comment on that.

I'm viewing this settlement/agreement as a good first step. I'm on record as saying I favor the NIH / NRSA scale as a minimum for all postdoctoral fellows so this more or less ratifies my position.

10 responses so far

  • bsci says:

    One question that I've wondered is how many UC postdocs were paid below the NIH minimum even before the contract? What bothers me is that all the postdocs who were paid at the minimum are now going to get paid less since a percent or so of their income will now go to the union. I notices the highlights of the contract give an automatic 1.5-3% raise to everyone currently a postdoc. To me that sounds like making sure that no one who votes on this contract sees a real salary decrease while screwing over future postdocs who would have been paid a real salary of the NIH minimum.

    Despite UC fighting the formation of the union, the contract negotiation seemed fairly fast. That makes me think the differences in salary and benefits between what most postdocs had before and after the union contract are minimal.

  • Namnezia says:

    Does this include foreign postdocs on a visa?

  • qaz says:

    The problem with the NIH postdoc salary rules is that the NIH postdoc experience scale is constructed to strongly penalize PIs who hire highly experienced postdocs. They did this to discourage postdocs from staying as postdocs for a long time. However, it also makes it really hard to hire late postdocs who feel they want a little bit of extra training (say in a new technique). As PIs, we budget for a reasonably salaried postdoc. It's not really possible to rebudget from a 0th year postdoc ($37k + benis per year) to a 6th-year postdoc ($49k +benis per year). I strongly support the concept of a postdoc minimum salary, but I'd rather see one minimum for all postdocs. Graduate student stipends don't increase each year. I think it would be really better for everyone if we could find a way to budget these things in terms of "slots" to fill.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I'd be more in favor of that qaz if we had a legitimate nonPI, career scientist track and postdocs only lasted 3 years, period. After that, on to a whole 'nother (and higher) career salary track....

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Seriously, qaz, you need to budget a living wage for your post-docs. It is criminal to expect someone to live in Cali on 37K with no raise for several years. You aren't the the first person to have to figure out how to make a non-escalating modular budget accommodate a series of escalating personnel costs. (Hint: put your cap ex in Y1).

  • nevyn says:

    "2588 to 121, or 96 percent in favor"

    That number is 100% misleading. Most of the rest of the ~6500 postdocs at UC weren't even informed about the opportunity to vote. Only ones previously vetted by the union were in on it. Of the ~10 postdocs in my lab, only one was aware that voting was going on.

    The 121 who voted against the contract were probably the ones who managed to discover that the vote was actually happening. It's bogus having no say in whether your wages are going to be garnished.

  • [...] National Research Service Awards (NRSAs) offered by the National Institutes of Health, according to DrugMonkey. A press release from the postdocs’ union (the UAW) says they will also enjoy better working [...]

  • bsci says:

    @nevyn, I know nothing about the current contract except what's linked off this page, but your story fits my memory of UC unionization attempts. Whether or not unionization is a good idea, I was horrified at the dishonest and incompetent behavior of the specific national union.

  • [...] University of California reaches agreement with unionized postdocs from Scientopia Posts by DrugMonkey [...]

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