Are Research Scientists A-4 and Postdocs going on strike?
At a mass action on campus on May 25, each unit made the decision to strike on June 7 unless their respective unit has reached agreement with UW.
Striking is a last resort. A work stoppage would be disruptive, not without personal challenge, and could delay the scientific work we are passionate about. But striking is also the strongest tool we have to secure fair contracts, and we are preparing now so that if it is absolutely necessary, we are ready. It is our sincere hope that UW Administration will stop breaking the law and bargain in good faith with us. But until we see progress from the UW Administration, we will continue to make preparations. Doing so will maximize the chances our strike would be successful should it be needed. We sincerely hope that this strike preparation work will never have to be used.
Why have we declared a strike date and what is the status of bargaining?
- As of May 2023, RSEs have participated in 30+ bargaining sessions since August of 2022. You can see information about the 44 articles/MOUs we’ve reached agreement on and what we have already tentatively won here.
- You can see an overview of the remaining articles that we are negotiating here.
- Postdocs have been bargaining a successor agreement since October of 2022.
- As of May 2023, Postdocs have participated in 20 bargaining sessions since October 2022. During the 17th session, UW Admin requested mediation, and the subsequent bargaining sessions have been conducted with a mediator.
- You can read the articles and MOUs that we’ve reached agreement on and the remaining topics that we’re still bargaining over here.
What has led up to considering a strike?
RSEs filed our petition for certification in December 2021, and a year-and-a-half later, we are still fighting to reach a first agreement that provides fair and equitable support for RSEs. Certification was stalled for more than 6 months when UW Admin challenged the inclusion of over 300 people in our bargaining unit and through the adjudication process we’ve seen that 99% of those challenges were baseless. After bargaining started, Admin moved slowly and made it clear that they weren’t thinking of these negotiations as a priority – stating that there is “no end in sight” for our contract. UW has violated the law by not bargaining in good faith over the decision to convert overtime exempt RSEs to overtime eligible (see the full ULP here and an overview here). And it was only in response to our mobilization efforts following our Strike Authorization Vote.
Likewise, Postdocs have been bargaining for months. After initially making good progress, Admin suddenly reversed course in January and started to claim that the state Washington Minimum Wage Act does not apply to Postdocs. This was an absurd claim, and we immediately filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge (see the full ULP here). Later Admin sent a letter to State Labor & Industries, seeking to get the state to agree with them; we sent a response letter and continued to escalate and make more visible the threat of a strike (including our action at the Board of Regents meeting). Not long after, L&I issued a memo agreeing with our position and informing UW Admin that Postdocs are, in fact, covered by the law.
What are our demands?
- Support for an inclusive workforce: Postdocs and Research Scientists and Engineers deserve fair agreements that include better support for parents and caregivers; and the same prevention program for RSEs that is available for Postdocs and student employees;
- Play by the rules: UW has committed multiple unfair labor practices and has been trying to evade the law establishing fair wages for salaried workers in Washington state. It’s time to bargain in good faith and reach fair agreements.
- Fair Compensation: People need to be able to afford to be scientists. Many RSEs are struggling to make ends meet. According to UW’s own study, RSEs are the furthest behind market wages of any professional staff. Postdocs are being denied the minimum salary threshold established by law in the state of Washington, and many are being denied pay parity with their colleagues., with some making tens of thousands of dollars less per year than other Postdocs in the same lab. All RSEs and Postdocs need a living wage and compensation structures consistent with state law.
What could a strike look like/how long would it last?
A strike is a complete work stoppage. During a strike, Research Scientists/Engineers and Postdocs would not perform our work duties and instead would participate in picket lines to increase the visibility of the strike. The strike is open-ended. Each unit will make a decision about ending the strike based on the status of negotiations.
What is a picket line?
A picket line is a public expression by striking workers of their dispute, which conveys a request for other workers and community members to join them in solidarity. We can increase the impact of a strike by encouraging non-RSE A-4/postdoc colleagues to not cross the line and avoid activities that weaken our decision to withhold our labor.
Where and when would a strike take place?
Postdocs and RSEs have each made the decision to strike on June 7 unless their respective units have reached agreement with UW.
If we strike, would we have support from the broader community?
Yes, and support is growing. MLK Labor has sanctioned our strike, as has the Joint Council for Teamsters 28. Collectively these labor organizations represent over 100,000 workers in King County, who will be receiving information about our strike and be urged to not cross our picket line. In the past, unionized bus drivers have refused to come on campus during a strike, as well as unionized delivery drivers and others. We are also reaching out to local organizations, student groups, faculty, alumni and more to explain our struggle to win a fair contract. Academic Student Employees and other community members are signing a pledge to respect picket lines.
What do I do instead of work if we go on strike?
During a strike, RSEs and Postdocs would participate in various strike duties including picketing in and around campus, phonebanking, outreach to allies, and strike coordination efforts.
What makes a strike effective?
When RSEs and Postdocs withhold our labor, UW will be forced to correct its unlawful behavior or cease to function as a top tier research university. The more of us who participate, the more collective power we will have.
Mass participation on picket lines will also increase pressure on UW to respond to our demands. 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 fair agreements.
Will I get in trouble for striking?
As with all other union action, our solidarity and willingness to be public is our best protection. The law doesn’t specifically prevent our employer from taking disciplinary action against those who engage in this action, up to and including termination. But at other strikes at UW (see above) this did not happen because participation was so strong. Collectively we would push the employer to apply a “just cause” standard and demand that any disciplinary action taken was appropriate and applied equally to every member of the bargaining unit. In other words: they’d have to take on all of us in order to take on one of us.
Is it legal for us to go on strike?
Strikes by RSEs and Postdocs in Washington are not prohibited by law. The statute governing RSE and postdoc collective bargaining neither prohibits strikes by public employees nor grants the express right to strike. This is what will likely prompt UW Administration to claim that a strike is “illegal.” Yet many public sector unions in Washington—including our own—can and do hold strike authorization votes and go on strike. Many teacher strikes (such as K-12 teachers in the Seattle School District) 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 UW Librarians participated in a 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. We’ll work to support each other and work with UAW leadership and other representatives to navigate legal or other challenges as they arise.
Will I be paid while I am on strike?
UW has the right to not pay us for the work we don’t do while on strike. In the event of a strike, RSEs and Postdocs who complete our strike duties will be eligible for $500 per week of strike pay from the UAW strike fund.
Am I allowed to strike if I am an international or undocumented student or scholar?
International and undocumented workers can participate in union activities, just as domestic workers do.
How do I access strike benefits?
As workers represented by UAW, RSEs and postdocs have access to UAW’s Strike and Defense Fund after losing pay for participating in a sanctioned strike. Strike benefits are $500 per week in strike pay, along with medical benefits in the event that UW withholds healthcare benefits. 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. Contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions you don’t see answered here.
Am I eligible for strike benefits if I’m an international or undocumented worker?
Yes. You would receive strike pay ($500 per week) from the UAW Strike and Defense fund to mitigate lost wages.
Will the University care if we go on strike?
Yes. RSEs and Postdocs perform critical work every day. Additionally, a strike would be highly visible showing the solidarity of 1,400 RSEs, 900 postdocs, and potentially thousands of ASEs and of other community members who pledge to honor our picket line. A strike will attract 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, the media coverage, and the 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 RSEs and Postdocs the collective power to end UW’s unlawful actions that are aimed at undermining our union and preventing agreements on vital improvements. When RSEs and Postdocs are treated fairly under the law such that we can address our working conditions at the table, this will in turn improve research at UW.
Can I use vacation or personal time off during the strike?
No. RSEs and Postdocs cannot use vacation or personal time off while simultaneously striking. The University can withhold our pay for work duties not performed. Striking workers will have access to strike pay.
How have strikes impacted past contract negotiations at UW?
The short answer is a lot. Specific impacts include:
- 2001: A strike led to a change in state law that obligated UW to bargain with Academic Student Employees (ASEs). This law in turn formed the basis for legislation applying to Washington State University ASEs, UW and WSU Postdocs, and now ASEs at regional universities. This 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).
- 2011: Strike Authorization Vote (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.
- 2018 – SAV and looming strike also got UW to move +2% in wages proposal for ASEs. On eve of 1-day strike ASEs won paid orientation, gender-affirming health care, waived mental health deductibles, establishment of equity survey, and the EPIC program (anti sexual harassment training program)
- 2023: UW Librarians won a first contract with multiple gains after 16 months of bargaining after two SAVs, a one-day strike, and the credible threat of a second strike.
If we strike, will advance notice be provided?
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 strike, how would I report my hours?
The University may ask Postdocs and Research Scientists and Engineers to “attest” as to whether they worked, or not, during a strike. These are forms that Universities sometimes use to assess whether or not to deduct pay for work not performed during a strike. There is power in numbers: workers should fill out these forms truthfully and accurately, but only after the work has been struck.
How would RSEs and Postdocs outside of the Seattle area participate?
- Withhold your labor
- Participate in phone/text banking
- Offer administrative/organizing support
- Please note that if you live in the Seattle area but work remotely, we will need you to come to campus to participate on the picket lines.
If we strike, what should I tell my collaborators, both internal and external, to UW?
- We encourage you to communicate in advance that a strike is a possibility and to discuss what this will mean for your work together.
- Encourage them to contact labor relations (email@example.com) and communicate the impact this is having on shared work.
If we strike, what should I communicate to my PI?
- If you haven’t already done so, please share these form emails (form email 1) (form email 2) with your PI/supervisor. They will provide background information
- Encourage them to take actions to help end a strike quickly
- Speak to their department chair
- Contact labor relations (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Invite them to join us on the picket line