UC Strike Enters Mediation As Postdocs, Academic Researchers Return to Work

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg will serve as the mediator in contract negotiations between the University of California and the union representing academic workers.
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  • The University of California academic workers' strike has entered its fifth week.
  • UC and the union representing the workers will enter mediation to resolve remaining issues.
  • Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg will serve as mediator.
  • Postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers have already ratified a contract.

Five weeks into the largest academic strike in the country's history, academic workers across the University of California (UC) system are moving into mediation to settle "outstanding disputes."

The academic workers include some 48,000 researchers, postdocs, and teaching assistants across the UC system's 10 campuses. They are represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg will serve as the mediator in the ongoing negotiations, UC and UAW leaders announced this week.

"I will do everything I can to help the parties resolve this dispute fairly for each side," Steinberg said in a Dec. 12 UAW email press release. "In one weekend, I already see numerous paths to reach a principled compromise that respects both parties and allows work to resume with fair contracts and a stronger university. My thanks to the Governor, UAW, and the Board of Regents for asking me to help."

Steinberg graduated from UCLA and UC Davis Law School and served 14 years in the state Legislature before being elected mayor in 2016, according to his biography.

He is also a former member of UAW and former staff attorney for Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union and the California State Education Association.

UC, UAW Express Optimism for Mediation

Reaction to Steinberg's involvement was generally positive from both sides of the negotiating table.

UC President Michael V. Drake said in a statement that Steinberg was a "fair-minded public servant" who "brings people together."

"I believe Mayor Steinberg is uniquely positioned to help facilitate a fair and reasonable contract that allows us to support our students as they work towards their degrees," he said.

Maya Gosztyla, a fourth-year biomedical sciences Ph.D. student at UC San Diego, told BestColleges that she approved of Steinberg, given his union experience.

"I approve of Mayor Steinberg as a mediator. As a former UAW member with previous mediation experience, I believe he's qualified to fill this role. I think his selection, combined with the continued power of our strike, will push UC to settle fair contracts," she said in an email.

Tarini Hardikar, a bargaining team member from UC Berkeley, said that mediation is necessary in order to make advances.

"Throughout the bargaining process, UC's negotiators have consistently been unprepared and unserious, and have broken the law repeatedly," Hardikar said in a UAW release. "We feel that in order to make progress, it is time for somebody else to step in."

UC Postdoc Scholars Return to Work

Some 12,000 UC postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers are back at work following the Dec. 5 ratification of a new contract.

They had reached a tentative agreement with UC at the end of November, and it was ratified with just over 89% of postdocs and 79% of academic researchers voting in favor of their respective contracts.

The new agreements include salary increases, eight weeks of paid family leave with full pay, protections against abusive conduct, and a promise from UC to negotiate reduced-fee or no-fee access to regional transit system(s), according to UC.

"This resounding vote in favor of ratification sends a clear message that Postdocs are excited about this new agreement, and to be setting the standard for Postdocs across the country," Jade Moore, a postdoc at the University of California, San Francisco in the radiation oncology department and a member of the postdoc bargaining team, said in a statement.

However, academic student employees and student researchers continue to strike and head into mediation.

"While we've made some important progress in bargaining already, the UC's absence of leadership has prevented us from reaching a fair contract," Gosztyla said. "I'm hopeful a neutral mediator will help us reach fair agreements on key issues such as wages, childcare, and nonresidential supplemental tuition."