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UW academic workers pack Regents meeting

Postdocs and Research Scientists seeking fair contract say University of Washington administration is not bargaining in good faith


The following is from UW Researchers United / UAW 4121:

SEATTLE (May 15, 2023) — Postdocs, Research Scientists/Engineers (RSEs), and Academic Student Employees (ASEs) at the University of Washington packed the Board of Regents’ meeting Thursday as the latest action they are taking to escalate their contract campaigns. Several Postdocs and Research Scientists and an Academic Student Employee spoke during the public comment period detailing how the UW administration is breaking the law and not bargaining in good faith, and imploring the Regents to use their power to help reach fair agreements and in doing so, avoid disruptive actions around campus, including striking.

Postdocs and RSEs noted that they are seeking terms consistent with their peers and colleagues, and that UW admin’s decisions to bend or break the law rather than agree to these things is giving them little choice but to escalate. Postdocs seek compensation consistent with other Postdocs as well as other salaried employees under the the Washington Minimum Wage Act, and noted that UW Admin is trying to evade this law by reversing its long-standing position that the Act applies to this group.

Likewise, RSEs are seeking compensation consistent with state and industry standards, which the University Admin has long noted is far behind its peers. RSEs are also seeking same type of childcare support provided to UW Postdocs, ASEs, and Medical Residents/Fellows, and joint development of the highly successful same sexual harassment prevention program (Empowering Prevention and Inclusive Communities, or EPIC) available to Postdocs and ASEs. Both groups have filed unfair labor practice charges detailing the University’s unlawful bargaining tactics, and have been found by the Public Employment Relations Commission to have stated a cause of action.

The following are excerpts from the remarks given at the meeting:

“We are extremely frustrated with what appears to be a policy directive from this university administration to resort to rule bending or rule breaking rather than collaborate to build a stronger, more equitable and more fiscally sustainable university,” said Charles Ian O’Leary, Research Scientist, Department of Biological Structure.

“Due to the unnecessary delays, bad faith bargaining, and unwillingness to agree to terms that are common in our industry, we, as a collective, are being forced to seriously consider taking direct action if we cannot reach agreement on fair contracts soon. UW Postdocs are simply asking for what other Washington state employees and many Postdocs at leading institutions are already getting,” said Andrew Brown, Postdoctoral Scholar in Philosophy, with the Neuroethics group.

“I stand in full support of our colleagues and UAW siblings who are struggling to negotiate fair contracts. Should my colleagues strike, I for one have pledged to honor any picket lines and my ASE colleagues and I are continuing to discuss all the ways we can take direct action to support our colleagues,” said Natalie Wellen, Academic Student Employee in Applied Mathematics.

“UW has a golden opportunity here to proactively come to the table with competitive wages and demonstrate that UW sets science and engineering as a priority. We would like to get back to focusing on our work and doing what makes UW a world renowned research institution. You have the power as members of this board to avoid disruption, by helping us finalize agreements that are fair, inclusive, and consistent with the law in our state,” said Beth Martin, Research Scientist with Genome Sciences.

Research Scientists have been bargaining for over nine months, after originally forming a union back in December 2021 and overcoming months of largely baseless challenges to their certification from the UW administration. Postdocs now have an expired contract and have been in negotiations since October.

Postdocs and RSEs are part of UAW 4121, the union of just shy of 1,500 staff researchers, 900 Postdocs, and over 6,000 Academic Student Employees at UW. Academic Student Employees last held a strike in 2018.

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