My name is Sahar Hooshdaran and I am a Specialist researching genetics and epigenetics of human reproductive health and disease at UC San Francisco. I am also a former UCSF Postdoc and an elected executive board member of UAW 5810, the Union of Postdocs at UC. After making the transition myself, and meeting with many other Academic Researchers, I’ve seen the sharp contrast between the rights and benefits of Project Scientists, Specialists or Professional Researchers, and employees like Postdocs, who have unionized.
Working as a Specialist, I have become aware of many situations in which ARs had no recourse to remedy unjust behavior by a supervisor or administrator. This includes circumstances such as ARs being appointed less than 100% time, but expected to work full-time (and then some), being told their appointment was being terminated with little to no warning, or that they could not decide when to end their appointments on their own. I have known women in their last week of pregnancy still commuting long distances to work due to lack of parental leave and limited time off they could have after delivery. Acting individually or in small groups, ARs have very little recourse to combat these or other equally pressing and critical issues such as sexual harassment, microaggressions, discriminations, unnecessarily short appointments, denied or delayed promotions, and even AR’s without full healthcare benefits.
This is in stark contrast to the power that unionized Postdocs have to remedy cases where individuals and/or groups of employees are being mistreated by the university. One instance that stands out from my Postdoc Union tenure, was a few years ago when hundreds of Postdocs were denied their contractually mandated right to individual and dependent health coverage. Thanks to the transparency that comes with having a union contract, those impacted were aware of their rights and able to file a union grievance that ultimately resulted in coverage for all those eligible as well as back pay for lost compensation.
Additionally, as with Academic Researchers, there have been numerous cases over the years where Postdocs have been paid below the minimum salary and/or not provided agreed upon wage increases. But unlike ARs, Postdocs have a union contract that guarantees minimum salaries and annual wage increases. Through vigilance and enforcement of their contract, UC Postdocs have won almost three million dollars in back pay as a result of salary grievances.
While we all know that working conditions for individual ARs can vary, I have seen that many problems that were commonplace for Postdocs seven years ago (when Postdocs unionized and negotiated their first union contract) are similarly commonplace for ARs today. And like Postdocs seven years ago, by forming a union we can equalize the power between ARs and the university and therefore greatly improve our recourse to remedy mistreatment.
As a Specialist, I am also keenly aware of ARs limited capacity to negotiate individual and collective improvements to working conditions. My experience as a member of the Postdoc Union bargaining team during the 2015 contract negotiations was a great lesson in how by unionizing and exercising our right to collectively bargain, unionized academic employees can negotiate transparent terms of employment on equal footing with the university.
As a member of the Postdoc bargaining team in 2015, I was in the room along with nine of my peers as we sat across the table from high level UC administrators and negotiated a new contract. Our bargaining priorities, derived from a survey filled out by a majority of UC Postdocs, included guaranteed wage increases, increased access to career development opportunities to which Postdocs had previously been denied and increased protections for international scholars.
It was incredibly empowering to negotiate along with my fellow bargaining team members on equal terms with UC administration and give voice to researcher priorities. And while we were negotiating, Postdocs across the state engaged in a months long series of actions to support negotiations, which included writing op-eds, recording video testimonials, and meeting in delegations with various campus administrators to make our case. Together, the bargaining team along with literally thousands of other Postdocs delivered a unified message that the terms and conditions of Postdoc employment reflect our unquestioned value to the university.
The end result was that we won a one year contract, which included guaranteed annual wage increases, the right to participate in career development activities on paid time, and improved protections for International scholars. And the following year, we returned to the bargaining table and won a four year contract that made us the highest paid Postdocs of any public university in the country, provided four weeks of fully paid parental leave for all Postdocs, guaranteed minimum one year initial appointments and minimum two year re-appointments, and provided strong career protections for Postdoc survivors of sexual harassment and/or discrimination.
These victories as a unionized Postdoc have plainly illustrated for me why it is essential that ARs form a union. With a union, we would have the power to ensure that protections are in place to prevent situations like part-time appointments for full-time work and a lack of guaranteed annual pay increases, because by forming a union ARs will have the power to negotiate global terms of employment on equal footing with the university. I urge you to join me in forming Academic Researchers United.