UC postdocs, postgraduate researchers sign new contracts as TAs, student researchers continue strike

UC Santa Cruz postdoctoral scholar Gerrald Lodewijk
UC Santa Cruz postdoctoral scholar Gerrald Lodewijk.
(Via Gerrald Lodewijk)

Of the 48,000 University of California academic workers from four bargaining units who began striking for higher pay and better working conditions on Nov. 14, about 11,000 are no longer striking after two units ratified new contracts. UC Santa Cruz postdoctoral scholar Gerrald Lodewijk told Lookout about the unit’s new deal and going back to work.

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About 11,000 University of California postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers were back at work this week after ratifying new contracts that include significant pay increases and child care subsidies.

That means those workers, including UC Santa Cruz’s estimated 160 postdoctoral scholars and 200 academic researchers, are no longer striking and heading back to their labs and facilities.

Two other bargaining units, which count about 36,000 teaching assistants and student researchers across the 10 UC campuses, are still striking. Last Friday, the striking units agreed to work with a private mediator to reach an agreement with UC labor relations.

Gerrald Lodewijk, 32, is a postdoctoral scholar in the biomolecular engineering department at UC Santa Cruz. When he heard about the contracts’ approval, he was ecstatic that 89.4% of postdocs and 79.5% of academic researchers voted in favor of ratification.

“I of course felt very glad,” he said this week. “These new changes will definitely help a lot of people.”

While the contracts include several wins and new benefits, perhaps the most impactful pieces are the pay increases. Postdoctoral scholars will get annual pay increases each fall, starting with a 7.5% increase in the first year followed by 3.5% increases in the following years. Academic researchers will receive pay increases of 4.5% in their first year, 3.5% in the second, third and fourth years, and 4% in the fifth year.

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It’s been a long process for postdoctoral scholars, who started negotiations in July 2021 and are on short contracts. Academic researchers began negotiations in May 2022.

Impact of the contracts

Lodewijk, who joined the Baskin School of Engineering as a postdoctoral scholar in July 2020, says he thinks the contracts achieved significant gains for postdoctoral scholars in pay, but he also thinks they’re good starting points for other areas.

“We’ve been able to get a fairly big increase in compensation to at least $10,000 annually, for postdocs,” he said. “And if you also include [years of experience], it’s going to be even more.”

With this new contract, he said his current salary of $59,780 will increase to about $71,908 by next October.

“I think for myself, it’s mostly the pay increase, which will help,” he said.

Lodewijk has a unique living situation: He pays $575 monthly in rent to live in a house with three other people in Santa Cruz. Not everyone can find that kind of living situation here, or can choose to live with three other people because they’re here with their families, he said, adding that postdocs also won a child care subsidy for the first time.

“It took the union 12 years [since the union’s first contract] to get an article in our contract,” he said. “That’s a long time. It’s now a $2,500 annual subsidy with a yearly increase. I think that’s a great start.”

On average, child care costs about $2,000 monthly in Santa Cruz County — meaning the subsidy covers a small percentage of annual costs. Still, Lodewijk said getting the $2,500 subsidy, despite its amount, represents a victory.

“I think it’s something that we can expand on in the next [few] years,” he said. “This contract is not the end of organizing. We can still find ways to organize with our members.”

Next steps for the units

While Lodewijk said he was happy to get back to work and catch up on the weeks he missed while striking, he was not looking forward to crossing the picket line while thousands of teaching assistants and student researchers continue to strike. Although picketing has been paused for striking workers on holiday break, Lodewijk and the other researchers are crossing the picket line by continuing to work.

“That’s of course a difficult thing to do. I wish I would have the option to not cross the line,” he said. “If I have to do my work, then yes, I physically have to be there.”

However, he said, in their new contract there is a specific article that says that if postdocs asked to pick up work from other people, they don’t have to do the work of striking researchers.

“There’s now very clear ways we can make sure we don’t pick up struck labor,” he said.

Lodewijk said while he is back at work this week, it doesn’t mean he and other postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers won’t be at picket lines and marching to support the teaching assistants and student researchers still on strike.

UCSC’s TAs and student researchers finished their last day of picketing last Friday ahead of the holidays, but had a holiday picketing event with a list of speakers Wednesday at the base of campus.

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