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Postdocs rally to demand UW stop denying health care

SEATTLE (Oct. 5, 2020) — In a physically distanced rally outside of the University of Washington human resources offices on Friday, dozens of UW postdocs, community leaders and supporters demanded the university’s administration change a policy that denies health insurance coverage to many postdocs. Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the UW administration has refused to change a policy that blocks Postdoctoral Scholars who are paid via externally funded grants from having access to the UW postdocs’ union-negotiated health insurance. This punitive policy impacts 40 to 60 postdocs every year, the vast majority of whom are international visa-holders.

International students and scholars have been targeted in recent months by federal policies designed to make travel and work at U.S. universities increasingly difficult and this health insurance policy exacerbates this problem. Their union, UAW 4121, is working to challenge several of these policies to ensure that UW remains a global institution, welcoming and supportive of all regardless
of citizenship or immigration status.

In 2018, UW postdocs voted overwhelmingly to form a union and fought to include all postdocs, regardless of their funding grants and mechanisms. Later, postdocs again voted overwhelmingly to adopt a collective bargaining agreement that ensured access to employer-sponsored health insurance for all postdocs. But the UW HR administration has consistently prevented postdocs who are paid through direct-funding mechanisms (paid-direct postdocs) from accessing the same insurance as other postdocs.

UAW 4121 has filed a grievance on this issue, but the UW administration hasn’t acted. The union has appealed this policy to the Healthcare Authority, which ruled that the university has sole discretion over which employees are eligible for insurance. And yet, the administration still hasn’t changed their position, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have enjoyed my time here working with colleagues to advance science in my field of evolutionary biology,” said former UW postdoc Jessica Arbour. “But as a UW employee I’ve also been subject to a deeply unfair policy that stripped my health insurance coverage and has resulted in an immense amount of personal and professional hardship.” Read Jessica’s story here.

Also see the story of former UW postdoc Marina Dütsch, who was forced to deal with UW’s punitive, discriminatory policy. After being denied access to health coverage by UW, she was left with only one choice for comprehensive health care coverage as a non-U.S. citizen, and its premium was doubled to $633/month when they found out she was a woman.

Learn more about this issue at the UAW 4121 website.

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