For some UC academic workers who are parents, the paycheck falls painfully short
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Nov. 16. I’m Ruben Vives, a Times Metro reporter covering homelessness in Los Angeles County. Let’s begin.
The nation’s largest academic strike was headed into a third straight day after 48,000 unionized workers across the University of California system walked out Monday, demanding better wages and benefits.
There are four UAW bargaining units that represent workers including postdoctoral scholars, academic researchers, graduate student researchers and academic student employees, which includes teaching assistants and tutors.
One of the issues at the heart of the strike is the plight of academic workers who are parents struggling to make ends meet.
Dr. Stephanie Redmond, a postdoctoral fellow at Arturo Alvarez-Buylla Lab at the University of California San Francisco, posted on Twitter about the financial burden facing academic workers who — like herself — have young children.
A week of daycare services at the University of San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus, for instance, is set to cost $3,190 a month beginning next year, she noted. “Starting postdocs make $4,636/month (pre-tax),” she tweeted. Add rent to the equation and workers can quickly be in over their heads.
I talked with Redmond by phone Tuesday night. The mother of an 11-month-old girl, she said she and her husband decided to move to Walnut Creek — more than 20 miles from UCSF — because day care and rent were more affordable there.
“It’s something that everybody struggles with — proximity to work or affordability,” she said. “The only way we can make that work is that my husband was near day care so he can do pick-ups and drop-offs.”
Redmond says she spends about 90 minutes each way commuting.
Union officials, to spread the campaign message, highlight stories about academic workers facing day-care and housing affordability issues. Charlotte Lorenz, who until this summer was a postdoctoral researcher in neurobiology at UC San Diego, said she would spend all of her pay on child-care services for her two children when she was working at the university.
In its own survey, the union found that 86% of UC postdocs with children had child-care costs that exceeded the affordability limit set by the federal government.
“The lack of affordable child care for postdocs contributes to gender inequity,” Lorenz said in a union campaign video, adding that 50% of PhD graduates in STEM are women but they make up only 30% of the faculty staff.
UC officials, saying fair and competitive pay for all employees is a UC priority and essential, have proposed a child-care reimbursement program that would provide up to $2,500 a year for eligible postdocs; for graduates, it would be $4,050. They’re also offering to increase paid pregnancy and family leaves.
Union officials, however, say they’ve asked for $2,000 in day-care reimbursements — monthly. Redmond said although she appreciated that the university was acknowledging the need for day care, their offer wouldn’t go far enough.
But affordable child care is just one of the issues at the heart of the strike. Union leaders are demanding substantial wage increases amid growing housing costs on and near many of the UC campuses, among other priorities, according to the union’s website.
The Times reports that union leaders want graduate student workers — who are teaching assistants and tutors — to have a base salary of $54,000, a hefty increase from the $24,000 they’re currently being paid. For postdoctoral employees, the union is asking for a minimum salary of $70,000, which would be, on average, a $10,000 increase.
It’s unknown how long the strike will last. So far, union negotiating team members and UC officials have come to a tentative agreement on three points.
Ryan King, a UC spokesperson, said academic workers make meaningful contributions to the university system’s teaching and research mission — and that the current offers are sufficient.
“We believe our offers of fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, among other proposals, are fair, reasonable and responsive to the union’s concerns,” he said in a statement.
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