Academic researchers vote to unionize

Academic researchers vote to unionize

Photo Credits: ALLYSON KO / AGGIE

UC academic researchers vote to join Union of Postdocs UAW 5810, form new Academic Researchers United

For the first time in UC history, over 5,000 UC academic researchers in the UC system from Academic Researchers United have voted in favor of unionizing and joining the pre-existing Union of Postdocs UAW 5810.

The Union of Postdocs currently represents over 6,500 UC postdoctoral students. The newly-formed Academic Researchers Union, also under UAW 5810, now awaits its first collective bargaining session with the UC for a contract that better fits the needs of ARs, according to members.

The UAW 5810 website explains how the UC has allegedly avoided salary increases for academic researchers — the annual increase has averaged only 1.7 percent over the past 10 years. In comparison, UC lecturers received a contractually-guaranteed 6.2 percent salary increase in 2016 and a 4 percent increase to Senate Faculty pay scales, effective July 2018.

The website also mentioned how the UC appoints “ARs to lower titles that do not reflect their experience.”

In 2018, the UC announced a 3 percent scale increase for ARs and a 3.5 percent increase for junior specialists.

The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), a state agency, certified a majority of UC’s academic researchers voted to unionize after 5,000 UC academic researchers and scientists signed a petition in favor of joining UAW 5810. In addition, over 3,000 researchers signed unionization authorization cards.

Kimberly Hale, from UC Davis news and media relations, unpacked the unionization process.

“Under California law, this is one of several legally required steps regarding union representation,” Hale said. “UC is working with […] PERB and the union regarding the composition of the proposed unit. Once PERB certifies the UAW as the exclusive representative for the unit, then contract negotiations would begin.”

Fred S. Bauman, a UC Berkeley project scientist for the Center for the Built Environment, believes that ARs deserve similar salaries and benefits as faculty and that unionizing will improve their chances of having a say in this matter.

“Academic researchers form an integral part of research here at the university, and make significant contributions to the world class reputation that UC Berkeley and the UC system enjoy,” Bauman said via email. “The formation of a union is important because it will provide a much greater opportunity for us to achieve improved recognition as academic researchers (within the UC system), who are often more experienced, more skilled, and make equal or greater contributions to many research projects across campus than many faculty members.”

Bauman described how the “the current system treats all ARs regardless of their knowledge, experience and skills as if they are automatically placed at a lower level than all faculty,” while he believes that they should maintain a more equal position.

“Many ARs have advanced degrees similar to faculty and often play leadership roles in obtaining major research grant funding that not only pays for the ARs salaries, but also covers grad students, post docs, and benefits the university through overhead charges,” Bauman said.

Leah Hartman, a UC Davis junior specialist in plant science research and a member of the Academic Researchers Union, spoke about the gains that unionizing brings to researchers, such as collective bargaining and a more democratized system.

“Unionizing typically improves workers’ lives and other groups of workers within the UC system have seen significant gains from union efforts, including things like paid parental leave — which we currently don’t have except via disability insurance — and better treatment for people who report sexual harassment,” Hartman said via email.

Hartman added that there are hurdles specific to AR positions.

“Academic researchers in particular face high job insecurity because of the way our positions are funded, which may manifest for some people as gaps in health insurance coverage, difficulty gaining US citizenship or uncertainty about whether our jobs will continue at the end of each research grant,” Hartman said. “These are just a few of the things we hope to address by coming together to speak to the university as a unit.”

Written by: Aaron Liss — campus@theaggie.org