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1,200-plus UW Postdocs, Researchers vote to OK strike

The following is from UW Researchers United/UAW Local 4121:

SEATTLE (Feb. 21, 2023) — A supermajority of Postdoctoral Researchers and Research Scientist/Engineers A-4 at the University of Washington voted resoundingly to authorize their elected bargaining teams to call a strike if circumstances warrant. Of the 401 Postdoc members who cast a ballot, 386 (or 96.3%) voted “yes” to authorize their bargaining team to call a strike if necessary; of the 959 Research Scientists/Engineers who cast a ballot, 879 (or 91.7%) voted yes. Votes were tallied Feb. 16.

“We are disappointed that it has come to this, but our decisive strike authorization vote indicates there is strong support for our demands—safe, supporting working environments that allow us to focus on the work that we love, and fair compensation so we can afford to live here,” said Abby Gambrill, RSE-2, Physiology & Biophysics department. “We can’t bargain indefinitely; a strong contract will be good for workers, and good for UW.”

UW Postdocs last week filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge over bad faith bargaining by the university administration. After initially agreeing to increase Postdoc wages in compliance with the salary thresholds in the Washington Minimum Wage Act, UW Admin abruptly started claiming that the law did not apply and therefore they didn’t need to agree to wage increases or overtime eligibility in future years.

Similarly, UW Research Scientists/Engineers A-4 (RSEs) filed a charge in early January 2023, after UW administration unilaterally converted some Research Scientists and Engineers (RSEs) into hours-tracking positions. Winning a first contract for RSEs has been fraught with delays. UW administration delayed recognizing their union for six months due to baseless challenges over who was eligible to be in the unit. RSEs won their union election in June 2022 and have been in negotiations with UW since August.

“We understand that we won’t always see eye to eye in bargaining, but when Admin tries to gain leverage by resorting to bad faith bargaining we draw the line,” said Rebecca Bluett, a Postdoc in Biochemistry. “We are taking action to hold Admin accountable by authorizing a strike, filing a charge, and exploring other collective actions we might need to take.”

“By taking these strike authorization votes together, Postdocs and Researchers are telling UW Administration that—although their bargaining trajectories are different—we are united in our efforts to ensure that UW treats the workers who power its research mission fairly,” said Levin Kim, President of UAW Local 4121, the union of Academic Student Employees and Postdocs at UW, which will also represent RSEs. “We hope UW will come to the table and bargain in good faith so both units can reach a fair agreement quickly.”

Postdocs and Research Scientists/Engineers A-4 play a crucial role in advancing the University of Washington’s research mission, which brings in $4 billion annually and drive innovation in areas such as medicine, computer science, and green energy. Postdocs and Research Scientists/Engineers are responsible for running labs, writing grants, mentoring students and colleagues, and much more.

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