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Postdocs Get Contract

Academe: University of California agreement increases compensation, but may decrease opportunities

by Jyllian N. Kemsley
August 23, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 34

Postdoctoral researchers at the University of California ratified their first contract with UC this month in voting that concluded on Aug. 11. The contract boosts their salaries to the recommended salary scale for postdocs established by NIH.

“I’m ecstatic that we’ve come to this agreement at last,” says Matthew (Oki) O’Connor, a former UC Berkeley bioengineering postdoc who spent the past year working for the Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/United Auto Workers union full-time on contract negotiations.

Others are not so happy. “I think the impact will certainly be fewer postdoc positions” because research grants have not been increasing enough to accommodate the higher salaries, says Carlito B. Lebrilla, chair of the chemistry department at UC Davis. Lebrilla also notes that the combination of stipend, tuition, and fees for graduate students used to make them more expensive to employ than postdocs but that the new postdoc salary structure will likely change that equation.

The UC system overall employs roughly 6,500 postdocs, or about 10% of all the postdocs in the U.S. The contract vote was 2,588 to 121.

UC spokesman Steve Montiel says the five-year contract will bring stability to university research programs. The contract also establishes and formalizes policies on personal and sick leave, annual reviews, protection against job loss, and interactions with environmental health and safety departments. The postdocs also agreed not to strike for the duration of the contract.

The contract specifies that all newly appointed postdocs starting at UC on or after Sept. 1 must receive at least the minimum salary recommended by NIH. For fiscal 2010, NIH guidelines call for a first-year postdoc to make at least $37,740 and for a fifth-year postdoc to make $47,940.

UC postdocs up for reappointment will receive up to a 3% raise to approach or meet the NIH pay guideline. Those postdocs who already receive more than the NIH-recommended pay will receive a 2% increase on reappointment. By 2014, all postdocs must receive at least the NIH-recommended salary for their experience level. UC expects grants to cover nearly all of the salary increases, Montiel says.

“Every way I look at it, it’s just going to decrease the number of opportunities for graduate students at a time when we have a lot of grad students who are looking for positions” due to the poor economy, Lebrilla says.



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