Academic Researchers United union reaches agreement with UC

Academic Researchers United union reaches agreement with UC

Photo Credits: MICHAEL LEAHY / AGGIE FILE

ARU becomes the first union in the nation to reach an agreement that covers academic researchers

The Academic Researchers United (ARU), a union consisting of almost 5,000 researchers spanning all nine UCs, reached a tentative agreement with the UC regarding a three-year contract on Nov. 4, 2019. The contract encompassed compensation and benefits, rights and protections and working conditions for all academic researchers. 

The academic researchers ratified the contract on Nov. 8 with a vote of 2,450 to 53. The contract will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and will expire on Sept. 30, 2022.

The union operates under the Union of Postdocs and United Auto Workers Local 5810 (UAW 5810). ARU filed for union recognition in September of 2018. In May of 2019, the union started bargaining and in October of 2019, they finally reached an agreement. 

“Our goal was for a multi-year agreement that recognizes the significant contributions academic researchers make to UC’s academic mission, and I believe that’s exactly what we’ve achieved,” Peter Chester, the executive director of systemwide labor relations with UC, wrote in a letter to academic researchers.

This agreement was reached through repeated meetings between the UC and ARU bargaining teams. The academic researcher bargaining team consisted of about 20 researchers from all but two UC campuses. 

Gerard Ariño Estrada, an assistant project scientist at UC Davis, explained that participation in the bargaining process is “highly enriching because you really get to know a lot of details about how the university works and how important decisions are made.”

Estrada said the increased compensation, longer appointments, lay-off protection and protection from unfair termination, along with the many other provisions, allow researchers to do better work. 

President of the Union of Postdocs, Anke Schennink, currently a postdoc in animal science at UC Davis, echoed this sentiment. 

“Multiple studies have shown that that researchers are more productive and do better research when they have better working conditions,” Schennink said.

Schennink said that throughout the process of forming the union, bargaining and ratifying, there has been great support from fellow researchers. 

“Every step of the way there’s been an overwhelming participation from academic researchers themselves,” Schennink said. “Academic researchers are paying attention and they’re ready for positive changes at work.”

This engagement in the process can be seen in the vote for ratification. In a union of almost 5,000, over 2,500 people voted. Although this rate may not seem very high, Schennink said a number of factors contribute to the percentage of the union who will vote. At any given time, researchers may be in the field, at a conference, on maternity leave, not yet on the email list or simply may not bother to vote. Among those in the union who did vote, 98% elected to ratify.  

The union was not always pleased with responses from the university.

“We encountered delays from the university and we worked hard to put pressure on the university by signing petitions, by involving elected representatives,” Estrada said. “Finally, within that, we got a really good agreement.”

Schennink also said that the contract “provides for improvements that enable academic researchers to thrive in their careers” and enables the university “to recruit and retain the best balance [between] the university’s resources” and the compensation of academic researchers.

Despite the achievement in reaching the agreement and ratifying, the union’s work is far from done. As this is the first contract to address the rights of academic researchers, one major consideration is a smooth transition, according to Estrada. 

“We’re going to work together to keep advocating for issues like more inclusive and equitable workplaces, for our rights and protections for international workers,” Estrada said. 

Schennink also explained that this first contract is not the end-all-be-all.

“We’re also focused on a strong membership and strong participation so that we can win more rights and more protections in the future,” Schennink said.

Written by: Jessica Baggott — campus@theaggie.org