Postdocs and staff scientists at the University of Washington (UW) reached a tentative agreement with university administrators yesterday, ending a weeklong strike that disrupted research and led U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to cancel a planned commencement address on campus so as to not cross the picket line. Both the postdocs and research scientists won raises they say will make it easier to afford to live in Seattle, one of the priciest cities in the country.

“We’re feeling tired but really great,” says bargaining team member Tricia Wu, a research scientist and cell biologist at UW. “We’re … incredibly proud of and excited about the wins that we achieved.”

The postdoc contract, which will be in place through January 2025, guarantees that most postdocs will be paid at least $65,508 this year and $68,456 in 2024, amounts that should exceed the state minimum for overtime-exempt salaried employees. (The 2024 state minimum will be announced in September.) Prior to this year, some had received the minimum set by the U.S. National Institutes of Health: $56,484.

However, postdocs who receive fellowships from external organizations and are paid directly by those organizations won’t see the same increases. “Their compensation is tied to the terms of the fellowship and the external sponsoring organization,” a university spokesperson wrote by email. The minimum salary for those postdocs will be $53,760 this year and $56,484 after July 2024. They will also receive a $6000 annual supplement from the university.

“It sucks,” says bargaining committee member Rebecca Bluett, a biochemistry postdoc at UW. “One of my only regrets about this contract is that we weren’t able to get more for them. We fought really hard for it, and just in the end, weren’t quite able to get as much as we wanted.”

As for staff scientists, the contract covers 3 years. It stipulates that the lowest paid staff scientists—a group that includes some research assistants and lab managers—will receive a 33% increase in the minimum salary, going from $41,088—what they earn today—to $54,548 by the end of the contract. The contract also gives staff scientists access to a harassment prevention program, protection against layoffs, and the ability to achieve principal investigator status, which would mean they can be listed as a PI on grant applications.

This last point is particularly meaningful, Wu says. For some of the more senior staff scientists, many of whom are experts in their fields, “it is already part of their job description to find and acquire new sources of funding for projects and to lead them,” she notes. But some departments didn’t allow them to be listed as PIs on grants they contributed to, which led them to feel as though they weren’t getting credit for the work they were doing, Wu says.

For the contracts to be ratified, a majority of the 900 postdocs and 1500 staff scientists must vote to approve them. Voting starts today and will run until 20 June. In the meantime, the union says it is pausing the strike. A university spokesperson declined to comment on contract details until they’re finalized, but noted that “we are pleased to have reached agreements with the postdocs and the research scientists and engineers.”

Union representatives say their joint strike effort helped give them leverage in negotiations and that they drew inspiration from a similar—but much larger strike—that took place in California late last year. In that case, 48,000 graduate students, postdocs, and staff scientists across the University of California (UC) system took to the picket lines to demand higher pay and better working conditions. The bargaining unit representing postdocs and staff scientists reached an agreement that secured higher pay after 2 weeks, but for graduate students, it took more than 5 weeks to reach a similar agreement.

“One of the special things about the UC strikes were that it was conducted across multiple units, and they were unified in helping each other,” Wu says. “We definitely saw that with our parallel strikes as well.”

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