UAW Local 5810 is the labor union of over 6,500 Postdoctoral Researchers (or Postdocs) at the University of California. We are 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 contract for Postdocs negotiated between UC and UAW is notable for being the first of its kind in the United States.
Local 5810 is made up over 6,500 Postdoctoral Researchers at the University of California or approximately one-tenth of all Postdoctoral researchers in the United States. The workforce consists of all Postdocs at the 10 UC campuses as well as Postdocs at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. LBNL Postdocs joined the union in August 2016.
UC Postdocs work in all fields of the academy, but are overwhelmingly concentrated in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Postdocs perform highly technical work, often under exacting conditions, but historically compensation has not reflected the rigor or complexity of our work. Prior to ratification of the 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 UC Postdoctoral Researchers, many of who 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 2009.
Initial contract negotiations of the first contract, which spanned a year and a half, were protracted and contentious. During that time, Postdocs carried out many actions to push for a fair agreement including an a majority of Postdocs signing an open letter to UC President Mark Yudof and informational picketing at all 10 UC campuses. A majority of UC Postdocs also wrote to their Congressional representatives to call for an investigation into UC’s stalling tactics. 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 made excuses for the long delays but the Congress members responded skeptically. 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 first Postdoc contract was ratified on August 11, 2010 and made significant advances in pay, health benefits and workplace rights for Postdocs. The UAW 5810 Bargaining Team was successful in linking minimum salaries to an experience-based scale set by the NIH for NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowships along with winning annual pay increases, which them among the best-compensated Postdocs in the country. The first contract also guaranteed health insurance for all Postdocs and dependents regardless of classification, as well as guaranteed minimum appointments, stronger health and safety protections, protections against unfair layoff or dismissal, and many more rights.
In May 2015, UAW Local 5810 and UC began negotiations on a new contract. Over the course of a contentious bargaining process, over 3,000 Postdocs signed a petition demanding a fair contract and hundreds of Postdocs delivered the petition signatures to campus administrators across the state. UC and the union came to agreement on a new one-year contract in early October days before a strike vote set to take place.
In this contract, Postdocs maintained the NIH NRSA pay scale as well as guaranteed wage increases. Additional improvements included improvements to health benefits including preventative care and contraceptive coverage without co-pays, as well as increased access to career development opportunities to which Postdocs had been previously denied. The union also won protections to ensure that International Postdocs facing termination can defend themselves, including the requirement that UC assist with visas and travel costs to testify in an arbitration hearing.
Negotiations resumed in May 2016. Postdoc priorities included a new salary scale more reflective of Postdoc contribution to the UC’s annual research revenue of almost $6 billion, provisions to combat gender inequity in academia, improved protections against discrimination, and more job security in the form of longer minimum appointments.
In April, a majority of Postdocs ratified the union’s initial bargaining demands that were then delivered the UC Office of the President. Postdocs held large demonstrations at UC campuses across the state during bargaining sessions throughout the summer. During the same period, over 600 Postdocs at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab voted overwhelmingly to join UAW 5810’s bargaining unit.
In response to repeated delay tactics and other unfair labor practices, in early September the Union announced the results of an Unfair Labor Practices Strike Authorization Vote. A majority of Postdocs voted to authorize a strike, with 96% voting “Yes”. In the waning weeks of the of negotiations with the September 30 deadline looming, a majority of the California Congressional Delegation as well as Congresswoman Jackie Speier and State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson sent letters to the UC Office of the President urging the university to agree to the union’s demands.
Finally, in the early morning hours of October 6, 2016, the Postdoc Union reached a tentative agreement on new four-year contract. The contract was subsequently ratified by a vote of the membership with 99% voting “Yes” and over 60% participating.
UC Postdocs are now the highest paid of any public school in the country, as the minimum salary for a Postdoc with zero years of experience begins at Step 2 of the NIH NRSA scale (“NIH Plus 2 Steps”). On December 1, as a result of this new scale, the majority of UC Postdocs received at least a 10% pay increase. It is anticipated that UC Postdoc salary will increase by an average of 43% over the life of the contract.
Additionally, the union won 4 weeks of parental leave at full pay for all Postdocs, increased job security by requiring minimum 2-year reappointments, and dramatically increased protections against sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.
The Local has taken action on many political issues relevant to the work of Postdoctoral Researchers, including increased funding for education and research, gender equity in academia, visa and immigration reform, and stopping sexual harassment in academia.
Since its inception, UAW Local 5810 has campaigned for comprehensive immigration reform and against attacks on the immigrant community. This is a salient issue for the Postdoc Union as a majority of our members are international scholars from many countries and work at UC on guest worker visas.
Combating gender inequity in academia is another one of UAW Local 5810’s core issues. In response to ongoing sexual harassment scandals at UC and in academia nationwide, in early 2016 the union organized a series of know-your-rights teach-ins for members of the academic community, and lobbyed politicians at both the state and federal level to press UC on the issue. These activities directly led to improvements in harassment and discrimination protections for Postdocs in the 2016-2020 contract.