Postdoctoral Researchers Ratify New Contract

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The first-ever contract between the University of California and its nearly 7,000 postdoctoral researchers was ratified last Thursday, with 96 percent of unionized researchers voting in favor of the previously negotiated contract.

Postdoctoral researchers at the UC, who represent close to 10 percent of all postdoctoral scholars in the nation, will now see greater health benefits, new job security standards and pay increases based on their experience as well as standards set by the National Institutes of Health pay scale.

As per the institute's scale, researchers making $47,000 annually or less will receive 3 percent pay increases and those already earning more than $47,000 will receive 1.5 percent pay hikes over the duration of the contract. Members of the union voted 2,588 to 121 in favor of the five-year contract.

According to Norval Hickman, a member of the Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/United Auto Workers negotiation team, researchers' pay varies by department as well as by university.

Hickman, who also works as a researcher at UC San Francisco, said he was thrilled postdoctoral scholars finally have a contract, adding that he hoped the contract would set a standard around the nation.

"It gives postdocs an assurance that when they come here at least they know the salary scale," he said. "(The benefits) are things they can plan on in terms of their life."

The ratification marks the end of a grueling 18-month negotiation process that included a congressional hearing to examine the sluggish pace of the talks as well as allegations by the union that the UC violated the state's Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act.

The researchers voted to unionize in August of 2008, though the union was not officially recognized by the California Labor Board until two months later, and formal negotiations between the union and the UC did not begin until February of 2009.

In the last few months, the two struggled to settle the final four contentious items out of 35 total items: health benefits, wages, the right to strike and appointment security. But the two groups reached an agreement earlier this month after a 16-hour marathon negotiation session.

The contract will go into effect this September once the university receives formal notification from the union, which UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said he expects by the end of the week.

"As far as the university is concerned, we got a contract," he said.

The researchers will begin paying into their health care plan in two years, will maintain their appointments for at least one year and have agreed not to strike for the duration of the contract.

According to Hickman, the no-strike provision proved especially contentious and remained on the table until the very end of negotiations.

Matthew O'Connor, a former bioengineering postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley who represented the campus on the union's bargaining team, said the union will now assemble a committee to draft the union's by-laws, which will establish the internal operations of the union. The by-laws will then be ratified by another union-wide vote.

He said in the meantime the bargaining team will appoint interim officers to govern the union.

O'Connor, who has been involved in the unionization process since its inception, said he was proud of the accomplishment.

"It is really great that I got to see this contract made," he said.


Javier Panzar is the news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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