Frequently Asked Questions
About the Postdoc Strike Authorization (SAV) Vote
What is a strike authorization vote (SAV)?
This is a vote that authorizes our bargaining committee to call a strike if circumstances warrant. A ⅔ majority of those voting is required for this to occur. It is a standard process within the union to ensure that this step is taken with full participation and approval from the bargaining unit before we consider calling a strike.
How does a Strike Authorization Vote work? (Is it anonymous?)
A strike authorization vote is used to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike in the unfortunate circumstance that UW refuses to bargain fairly. This vote requires a ⅔ approval rate from union members in order to pass and is held under the supervision of the election committee. The vote is conducted via digital secret ballot distributed to all PD members. UAW4121 organizers will be able to see whether you have voted, but not how you have voted. UW will not have access to information about who has voted.
Where can I find my ballot?
You should have been emailed a ballot on Monday, February 6. Search your inbox for subject: “Strike Authorization Vote Ballot: UW Postdocs” OR reach out to us for the link by emailing email@example.com.
Why are we holding this vote now?
- UW has created pay inequity among Postdocs by not increasing wages for everyone. PDs should not be penalized for obtaining fellowship funding.
- UW now says that their “ongoing legal analysis” suggests the WA Minimum Wage Act may not apply to Postdocs, so they are free to continue to pay us less than a living wage. They have not provided us with any support for this claim, and our analysis supports the position that the law does apply to Postdocs – at least to Postdoc Scholars, if not to all Postdocs.
- If it turns out that the law does apply to Postdocs, as we strongly believe it will, UW will require most PDs to start tracking hours as of January 1, 2024. While PDs would only have to work 3 Overtime hours per week to earn the same amount as the projected 2024 minimum, UW has repeatedly asserted that not all Overtime would be approved so PDs could be sent home without finishing their work.
- UW continues to make very little movement on key issues in bargaining, especially in regard to wages and reappointment lengths.
- Bargaining with “no end in sight” is unacceptable. We need UW to commit to finishing this contract.
- UW has violated labor law. UW must rescind the decision to unilaterally convert RSEs into hours-tracking positions.
- RSEs need a living wage. UW must provide a response to our Compensation proposal that includes a fair increase to RSE wages.
- Filed petition for certification in December 2021, and more than a year later are still far from reaching a first agreement that provides fair and equitable support for RSEs.
- UW is unmoved by and unresponsive to the vast majority of our proposals—including wages, childcare, rights of international researchers, professional development, bridge funding, and more
A strong Yes vote makes it clear that we are willing to take additional steps to hold UW accountable so they make real movement toward a fair agreement.
How can I help ensure SAV success?
Talk to your fellow postdocs! Inform people of our situation. Admin wants to push a wage contract that does not supplement paid-direct fellowships to bring those Postdocs up to the wage standard (above the overtime threshold). They also want to move all Postdocs to hours tracking in 2024 and provide no structure to prevent PIs from pressuring their Postdocs to under-report hours worked. Under the admin proposal not all Postdocs will receive fair pay, and PIs will be given full discretion to individually decide what hours worked were approved. We don’t have specifics on how this process would work as Admin has not answered our Request for Information.
Does voting yes mean that we are going on strike?
No. Voting yes means you are authorizing our bargaining committee to call a strike in the event that circumstances warrant. Striking is a last resort, and the bargaining committee would only recommend striking if it believed that it was the only way to achieve a fair deal. If, for example, the University continued to bargain in bad faith, made additional unilateral changes, refused to make progress toward a fair agreement, or in other ways made reaching a fair deal not possible.
Most strike authorization votes do not result in an actual strike. However, following this important first step, if we authorize a strike we will continue to prepare to maximize the chances our strike is successful if a strike is needed.
- 2001: SAV and strike moved UW to stop opposing legislation that would provide a bargaining framework for ASEs (which formed the basis for legislation for WSU ASEs, UW Postdocs, and now ASEs at regional universities).
- 2004 SAV led to the negotiation of the first ASE CBA. Bargaining the entire contract took five weeks
- 2011: SAV (and a sit in) led to the creation of the childcare fund in the ASE CBA, which then was adopted by Postdocs and Medical Residents
- 2015: SAV led to the waiver of one of the major student fees, reducing out of pocket costs for ASEs
- 2018: SAV and one day strike led to the establishment of the EPIC program in the ASE CBA
- 2018 – SAV also got them to move +2% in wages proposal. On eve of 1-day strike we won paid orientation, trans-affirming health care, waived mental health deductibles, equity survey, EPIC
Where and when would a strike take place?
That is a determination we’ll need to make collectively. Currently there are only 2 more bargaining dates scheduled before our current PD contract expires on January 31st.
What could a strike look like?
A strike is a complete work stoppage. During a strike, Postdocs would not perform our work duties and instead would participate in picket lines to increase the visibility of the strike. Strikes can be fixed duration or open-ended, and we’d need to decide together how a strike could create conditions for maximum participation and maximum impact. We of course hope that UW will change course, bargain in good faith and promptly, and reach an agreement that will address the needs of Postdocs.
What makes a strike effective?
When Postdocs withhold our labor, especially if we act in concert with RSEs, UW will be forced to take all of us more seriously. The more of us who participate, the more collective power we will have.
Mass participation on picket lines will also create a crisis for UW. When we demonstrate our solidarity publicly while withholding our labor, Admin will have to answer for their conduct, particularly when other workers who serve campus honor our picket lines, and community allies and others with influence over the University weigh in and demand that the University negotiate a fair agreement.
Is it legal for us to go on strike?
Strikes by public employees in Washington are not prohibited by law. The statute governing PD and RSE collective bargaining neither prohibits strikes by public employees nor grants the express right to strike. Many public sector unions in Washington—including our own—can and do hold strike authorization votes and go on strike. Many teacher strikes have happened in Washington State. At UW: in 2001, a huge majority of UW Academic Student Employees (ASEs) struck without getting fined or disciplined and without the union being sued. In 2018 the same was true with another ASE one day strike, and in 2022 a UW Librarians one day strike. As with all other union action, our solidarity and willingness to be public is our best protection: there is strength in numbers. All of us are represented, and UAW 4121 staff and stewards are ready to be with us if needed.
International and undocumented workers can participate in union activities, just as domestic workers do.
Will I be paid while I am on strike?
Postdocs have the right to strike. UW also has the right to not pay us for the work we don’t do while on strike. In the event of a prolonged strike, Postdocs who complete our strike duties will be eligible for $400 per week of strike pay from the UAW strike fund.
How do I access strike benefits?
As workers represented by UAW, Postdocs have access to UAW’s Strike and Defense Fund after losing pay for participating in a sanctioned strike. Strike benefits are $400 per week in strike pay, along with medical benefits in the event that UW withholds healthcare benefits. Strike pay is only available to Postdocs in good standing who participate in 20 hours per week of picket duties and have filled out a union authorization card. UAW Local 4121 also has an established hardship fund and will be fundraising to provide further assistance to workers who experience emergency financial hardship due to lost pay.
Am I eligible for strike benefits if I’m an international or undocumented worker?
Yes. You would receive strike pay ($400 per week) from the UAW Strike and Defense fund to mitigate lost wages. This is similar to when workers receive Short Term Disability Benefits from an insurance company when they’re not working while on disability or pregnancy leave.
Can I use vacation or personal time off during the strike?
No. Postdocs cannot use vacation or personal time off while simultaneously striking. The University can withhold our pay for work duties not performed, and workers will have access to strike pay.
What would it mean for the current contract to expire without a successor in place?
The statute that provides for a one-year carryover of terms and conditions is not the same as a contract. The intent of that law is to prevent an employer from unilaterally implementing its own terms and conditions for at least one year from the termination date stated in the collective bargaining agreement. For example: admin may move to prevent EPIC training and the Paid Direct Healthcare Stipend could be discontinued because they have expiration dates. They could also revoke the free U-PASS for Paid Direct Postdocs. Most new Fellow contracts could begin at the current lower rate and not the rate that brings them over the OT exemption threshold. The no-strike clause is also clearly time-limited in our contract (“during the life of the agreement”) so it will be incumbent on whatever anti-union lawyer the University hires to explain how such terms can be forced involuntarily upon union members.
Please recognize that management’s strategy will be to frame the issue in terms of confusing and obfuscatory legal questions. We can counter this most effectively when we stand together and dare the university to take on thousands of us who are simultaneously demanding justice in the workplace.
Will the University care if we go on strike?
Yes. Postdocs perform critical work every day. Additionally, a strike would be highly visible, showing the solidarity of hundreds of Postdocs and attracting media attention and political support for our right to fair working conditions. Members of other unions can support us in a variety of ways. The combination of stopping research and teaching, media coverage, and political pressure generated by a strike would absolutely impact the UW.
Isn’t going on strike only hurting ourselves because our research would suffer?
While participating in a strike will require all of us to make sacrifices, this action also gives Postdocs the collective power to pressure UW for vital improvements. When Postdocs are treated fairly under the law such that we can address our working conditions at the table, this will in turn improve teaching and research at UW.
What do I do instead of work if we go on strike?
During a strike, Postdocs would participate in various strike duties including picketing in and around campus, phonebanking, outreach to allies, and strike coordination efforts. In the event of a strike, you will receive additional information about how to sign up for different duties.
What should I do with my live test subjects during a strike?
It’s ultimately the UW’s responsibility to make sure that any basic lab maintenance happens during a strike. There are also ways that you can prepare for a potential strike. These plans could include advance-planning your experiments or informing supervisors that they may need to make alternative plans to take care of these subjects. If we eventually choose to go on strike we’d discuss and make decisions about how best to handle animal care or other emergent challenges.