House Representatives Examine UC Contracts

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Bay Area congressional representatives held a discussion Friday to address an 18-month-long delay in contract negotiations between University of California administrators and postdoctoral scholars.

Approximately 6,500 scholars across the 10-campus system have not been able to sign contracts with the university after over a year of negotiations. The group of researchers voted in October 2008 to be represented by the United Auto Workers union, but members have not been able to reach final contract agreements with the university since formal negotiations began in February 2009.

The meeting Friday was not held to mediate the two parties; rather, it was held in order to examine the general challenges of first contract negotiations, using the situation of UC postdoctoral scholars as a "case study."

The meeting was presided over by U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and included Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma and John Burton, former member of Congress and former president pro tempore of the California State Senate.

So far, 29 out of 35 issues brought forth during negotiations between the university and the researchers have been resolved. However, the congressional representatives said at the meeting the six remaining issues-wages, health benefits, appointment rights, job security and protesting rights-should have been addressed sooner.

"This is pretty demoralizing, to say the least," Lee said. "If these are the outstanding issues, I can't figure out what the other 29 are. What is going on at my alma mater?"

Dwaine Duckett, UC vice president for systemwide human resources, said the negotiations have been long and complicated partially because of the wide range of postdoctoral positions among the campuses.

"It is difficult to arrange across-the-board pay raises," he said. "The UC will do everything it responsibly can to reach an agreement."

Ludmila Tyler, a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Berkeley plant and microbial biology department, gave a testimony of her experience.

"These policies don't take into account who postdoctoral scholars are," she said. "If I lose my job, I am not eligible for unemployment benefits. What is this telling young men and women who want to get a doctorate?"

Tyler added that while she makes $37,400 per year, her husband who has a similar position as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University will be paid about $10,000 more this year than she will.

John-Paul Ferguson, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, spoke about a study he published on first contract negotiations.

"Long delays and a high percentage of not reaching contracts are not unusual; nowhere do I say there is nothing wrong with this," he said of his research. "Rather, this is a bad thing."

Some at the discussion said delays in contract negotiations can be used by employers to undermine employee demands. After a year of negotiations without a contract, a newly recognized union can be decertified under California and federal law, Miller said.

Duckett denied that the university is delaying negotiations in order to decertify the scholars' union.

"The university cannot decertify a union-that is an employee choice," he said. "We are neutral."

Duckett added that the university will continue to work with postdoctoral scholars until all issues pertaining to the contracts are addressed. The most recent bargaining negotiations between the parties occurred in April.

"There is incentive for both sides to settle," he said.


Emma Anderson is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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