UAW Local 5810 is the labor union representing over 6,500 Postdoctoral researchers at the University of California. It is an affiliate of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, AFL-CIO or, UAW. UAW Local 5810 was chartered in 2008. The stand-alone Postdoctoral scholar contract negotiated between UC and UAW is notable for being the first of its kind in the United States.
Local 5810 represents over 6,500 Postdoctoral researchers at the University of California, or approximately one tenth of all postdoctoral researchers in the United States.
UC Postdocs work in all fields of the academy, but are overwhelmingly concentrated in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Postdocs perform highly technical work, often under exacting conditions, but historically their compensation has not reflected the rigor or complexity of their work. Prior to ratification of their first contract, the majority of Postdocs at UC were paid less than $41,000 per year (and some as low as $18,000 per year).
In 2005, a group of Postdoctoral researchers employed by the UC, many of whom were previously members of UAW Local 2865 and other local unions representing academic student employees, approached the UAW and asked for help forming a union. The group began an organizing drive as Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/UAW or PRO/UAW.
On August 19, 2008, the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) certified that a majority of UC Postdocs had chosen PRO/UAW as their union. Contract negotiations began in February of 2009.
Negotiation of the first contract, which spanned a year and a half, were protracted and contentious. During that time, union supporters picketed at all ten University of California campuses. On April 30, 2010, the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor held a field hearing at UC Berkeley to evaluate the unusually lengthy amount of time it was taking to reach agreement.
During the hearing, Vice President of Human Resources for the University of California Dwaine Duckett testified that the delay was due to difficulty tracking complex funding formulas used to allocate Postdoc salaries. A Postdoctoral researcher also testified about her difficult experience as an expectant and new mother within the UC system.
After the hearing, Committee Chairman George Miller wrote UC President Mark Yudof expressing “deep concern”about UC’s slow-paced approach, saying he “left the hearing thoroughly disappointed” in UC’s efforts to reach agreement. Congressman Miller was then joined by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey in sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking the agency to look into “how universities, including the University of California, track how funds provided for laboratory research grants are spent.”
The contract was ratified on August 11, 2010 and made significant advances in pay, health benefits and safety on the job for postdocs. Postdoc negotiators were successful in linking minimum salaries to an experience-based scale set by the NIH for NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowships. UC postdocs are guaranteed minimum salary increases with every year of experience, making them among the best-compensated Postdocs in the country.
The Local has spoken out on several political issues relevant to the work of Postdoctoral researchers, including increased funding for education and research.
In 2011, UAW Local 5810 joined together with others advocacy groups to campaign for comprehensive immigration reform. This is a salient issue for the Postdoc union as their members come to the UC system from all over the world and work at UC on training or guest-worker visas. Local 5810 has advocated for the DREAM Act and the California DREAM Act, and supports the work of United Students Against Sweatshops.