Thursday, February 7, 2019


From Science Magazine: After 5 years as a postdoc—four of them at the University of California (UC), Los Angeles—molecular biologist Christina Priest hit the university’s time limit for postdoctoral appointments and transitioned to a university staff position as a project scientist in the same lab. Now an at-will employee in a job with no set end time, she says she finds her work “continuing the project I initiated as a postdoc … not enormously different, [despite] more responsibility.”

But she has less of something important: income. “I was making more as a fifth-year postdoc than I am making as a project scientist,” not to mention a “huge increase” in health insurance premiums, “from about $40 a month to about $260 a month,” she says. Beyond that, she has lost some of the fringe benefits she enjoyed as a member of the union that has represented the roughly 6000 postdocs in the 10-campus UC system since 2008, when it succeeded in a years-long effort to create the nation’s second, and by far its largest, union of postdocs. (UC graduate students are also unionized.) “It seems unfair to be doing a similar job and to lose benefits,” Priest continues.

The illogic of gaining experience and responsibility while losing pay and fringe benefits she had as a “trainee” inspired Priest to sign on as soon as she heard, in 2017, that the same union that represented her as a postdoc, UAW Local 5810, had a campaign underway to establish a new bargaining unit for people like her. The proposed new unit, Academic Researchers United (ARU), hopes to represent people who, like Priest, are UC professional researchers but neither postdocs nor tenure-eligible faculty members. These workers hold a variety of titles, including project scientist, specialist, and researcher, and people like them work under still other designations at other institutions. All, however, share a common goal: doing research and “contributing to the main mission of the university,” says Priest, who serves on the proposed union’s bargaining committee. A number “are also bringing in grant money” as principal investigators on their own grants...

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