California postdocs win better employment terms

August 12, 2010

After 18 months of wrangling, postdoctoral researchers have finally reached an agreement with the University of California over a contract of employment that they hope will set standards for postdocs across the US.

More than 6,000 postdocs working across the university's 10 campuses formed a union, affiliated to the United Auto Workers union, in November 2008 amid complaints about pay, benefits, rights and working conditions.

About 60 all-day negotiation meetings culminated in a marathon 30-hour session at the end of July, where an agreement was finally reached.

The contract, which will run for the next five years if ratified in a ballot of postdocs this week, guarantees a pay rise of at least 3 per cent a year for those earning less than $47,000 (£29,500) annually, and at least 1.5 per cent for those earning more. A new minimum salary of $37,740 has also been agreed.

The new contract will also see University of California postdoctoral researchers' salary scales gradually brought into line with those at the federally funded National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to the union's summary of the agreement, NIH researchers receive average annual increases of 5 per cent as they advance up the experience scale.

The scale itself is also raised every year, with President Barack Obama proposing an increase of 6 per cent next year.

Also included in the contract are redundancy protection, a one-year minimum length for appointment and a no-strike agreement.

The contract is not the first of its kind in the US, but the Californian postdocs - who account for 10 per cent of all postdocs in the country - are by far the largest group to unionise.

Xiaoqing Cao, a cancer researcher from the University of California, Los Angeles and a member of the bargaining committee, said: "We've improved compensation and our rights at UC, and have helped set standards for postdocs across the country."

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