University of California postdoctoral workers fighting for fair pay and childcare

Postdocs at UC Davis delivered a petition to Chancellor Linda Katehi asking for better pay and working conditions.

Postdocs at UC Davis delivered a petition to Chancellor Linda Katehi asking for better pay and working conditions.


Strike vote postponed in early October as contract extended

Postdoctoral workers throughout the University of California are in contentious negotiations with the 10-school system over a new contract that would improve working conditions and pay for the 6,000 members.

“We believe that UC should fight income inequality, not perpetuate it,” said Anke Schennink, president of the postdoc union, UAW Local 5810. “But management has told us they think we should be paid less, that our families don’t deserve the same support as other UC personnel, and that we should be required to work hours we’re not paid for.”

UAW Local 5810 represents postdocs across all University of California campuses, including hundreds at UC Davis, who are critical components of the research conducted by the schools. The postdocs have been involved in difficult contract negotiations that center on fair pay and improved working conditions.
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According to the union, the University has proposed take-aways to postdoc compensation, refused childcare support to postdoc parents, and has denied equal due process rights to international academics brought to the U.S. to enhance UC’s research mission.

On October 1, the union delayed a strike authorization vote as the contract was extended by nine days.

In addition to contract issues, UC has filed its official comment with the Department of Labor seeking to exempt postdocs from a new rule proposed by the Obama administration that would require overtime pay for workers asked to put in more than 40 hours a week but who make less that $50,440.

A strike would affect every campus in the UC system, effectively shutting down research in the university system. As of press time on October 3, the vote had not been finalized.

Postdocs, who have already earned their PhDs, perform research at labs across UC in areas including cancer research, clean energy and physics modeling.

Earlier this year, a majority of the 6,000 postdocs signed a public statement calling for a fair contract and hand-delivered those signatures to Chancellor’s offices across the UC system. The statement authorized UAW 5810’s bargaining team to do what was necessary to secure a fair contract, and an authorization vote for a strike was held in late September to give the team the ability to call a strike if circumstances warrant.

Because of the uncertainty over whether the Obama administration will exempt some workers from its proposed overtime rule, UC is refusing to offer postdocs any childcare support. The lack of childcare support has contributed to many women being forced out of their positions as postdocs, and has helped create a dramatic gender gap within the academy. Although women receive more than half of the PhDs in this country, they represent only 21% of full professors in the sciences and only 5% of full professors in engineering.
UC’s labor-unfriendly positions and actions have forced three other UC unions to strikes in just the past three years.