The University of California and its postdoctoral fellows and university researchers reached a tentative agreement on Tuesday that would raise their salaries to among the highest in the country – but they will not yet return to campus in solidarity with some 36,000 employed graduate students who stay on strike.
“We are proud to have reached agreements that address the soaring cost of living and reflect the value of our contributions to UC,” Neal Sweeney, president of United Auto Workers 5810, said in a statement. “These agreements represent a new, best-in-class model that will improve the quality of life – and the quality of research – for scientists across the United States”
The tentative agreement involves two smaller bargaining units and does not settle the uncertainty rocks system-wide campuses on how to handle grading and final exams at the end of the fall terms. That’s because workers who do such hands-on work with students make up the vast majority of strikers — graduate student teaching assistants and researchers in two large units, UAW 2865 and SRU-UAW. They remain very distant on the salary proposals.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Sweeney said the tentative agreement would put UC postdoctoral fellows at higher median pay levels than even Stanford, which is setting the tone. Union members have yet to ratify the deal, but once that happens they will be contractually bound to return to work, even if others are still on strike.
UC welcomed the agreement and thanked faculty and students in the 10-campus system for their “flexibility and patience” during the strike.
“Our dedicated colleagues are essential to UC’s research activities and we are very pleased to have reached agreements that honor their many important contributions,” said Letitia Silas, executive director of system-wide labor relations. , in a press release. “These agreements also confirm our tradition of supporting these employees with some of the best compensation and benefit plans in the country.
Postdoctoral staff and university researchers make up about 12,000 of the 48,000 union members who launched the largest program ever organized in the country. university strike three weeks ago. They say the tentative agreement will significantly improve the quality of their lives by increasing the minimum annual salary for their full-time positions of around $55,000 to $70,000 or more with various adjustments by the end of the five-year contract – including a $12,000 increase by next October.
“It will be very transformative for me,” said Adam Caparco, a UC San Diego postdoctoral researcher who studies how to make environmentally friendly pesticides, develop drought-resistant plants and improve waste management.
Caparco said he had been lucky with a reasonably priced apartment during the pandemic and was only spending 30% of his $3,500 monthly take home pay on rent. But he still lives paycheck to paycheck, he said, having to rely on credit cards for unexpected expenses such as a $1,200 car repair earlier this year.
The wage gains in the tentative agreement, which Caparco said it intends to ratify, would give it more financial security — and breathing room to think about saving for a new car or joining a gym.
Faculty members say they value their university workers and want them to earn enough to live in security. But many worry about where the money will come from to pay for the higher wages and benefits.
Postdoctoral fellows and academic researchers are largely supported by grants obtained by faculty. Federal grants have remained stable for years and often limit what can be paid out of salaries or how funds can be spent. It’s unclear, faculty said, whether funding bodies would allow grants to be used for childcare, e-bikes or public transit subsidies — some of the new benefits included in the plan. ‘agreement in principle. They also asked what would happen if they did not have funding for another provision of the agreement, extend the appointments for one to two years.
“We want the people who work for us to be supported, but we’re afraid it’s up to us and we don’t have the resources,” said one faculty member.
Sweeney, the union leader, stressed that UC should work harder to reach an agreement with teaching assistants and graduate student researchers.
“We believe that the university can and should start making serious proposals to the other two units and that they should come to an agreement as soon as possible, even this week,” he said.
But UC and graduate students remain far apart on salary proposals. The university has requested the intervention of a neutral mediator, which the union opposes.
While postdoctoral fellows have accepted an increase of about 20% in the annual minimum wage – from about $55,000 to $66,000 – graduate students are demanding a 145% increase from $22,000 to $54,000.
George Blumenthal, director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley, said graduate students needed and deserved more support, but such a salary demand was “far out of the realm of possibility” given the CU budget and salary agreements with other employee groups. He said postdoctoral fellows and university researchers also have a pressing incentive to settle because their contracts usually only last a few years and they need to be productive to secure renewal or their next job.
Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 2865, said it’s up to his union bargaining team to decide whether or not to bring back an offer to members with lower wage demands. But they need a much higher salary to survive and continue the essential teaching and research they provide at UC, he said.
“The type of salary that graduate students earn makes it very difficult to pursue a college education,” he said. “All we ask is that UC values the work we do and pays us worthy salaries.”
For postdoctoral fellows, the tentative agreement includes:
—A wage increase of 20% to 23% (up to $12,000) by October 2023 for most union members. The currently lowest postdoctoral worker would receive a 57% raise over five years.
—Annual increases of 7.2% for scale postdocs and 3% for those off scales for 2024-2027.
—An increase from four weeks to eight weeks in paid parental and family leave.
— Child care grants that will start at $2,500 per year and increase to $2,800 per year – their first such grant.
—Longer appointments for more job security, better protections against bullying and for workers with disabilities.
—Transportation benefits, including a commitment to free transit passes within three years and a 15% discount on e-bikes.
For university researchers, the agreement provides an average salary increase of 29% over the five-year contract. They will also get eight weeks of paid family leave, longer appointments for better job security, better transportation benefits and greater protection against bullying and for workers with disabilities.