Post-Doc Scholars Unfairly Denied Health Benefits

    As a union representing more than 6,000 postdoctoral scholars (also known as “post-docs”) at the University of California, this promise means something — the majority of our members are immigrants working in the U.S. on guest worker visas, and they are here because they have worked for years to reach the forefront of biology, physics, engineering and other fields. They have already earned Ph. D.s and come to the University of California to perform cutting-edge research (think breakthrough cancer therapies, new models for the origin of the universe, stem cell research and more). Imagine their surprise when, after arriving at the University of California, they are told that although the contract the union negotiated states that health care coverage is available to all post-docs, it will not be extended to them. This is true despite the fact that their fellowships collectively bring in millions of dollars of research funding to the university each year and include salary support, effectively making them free labor.

    Even though the contract provisions are clear, the University of California has decided to deny some international postdoctoral scholars the benefits to which they are entitled and that their lab mates receive. As a result, some have been forced to pay up to $1,200 a month for health insurance, and many simply go without or enroll in inferior plans they must pay for themselves. Some are covering small children or pregnant spouses, and they are all being put in an unfair, dangerous and extremely difficult position by the UC System.

    For example, one UC Berkeley post-doc was told she would have to pay the full price of the plan herself (more than $400 per month) although all her colleagues in her department pay less than $10 per month to be covered by the same plan. She was not able to afford the high cost, so, with the University of California’s knowledge, was sold an inferior high-deductible plan by the University of California’s health insurance broker. Since then, she has paid nearly $1,000 out of pocket for doctor visits and premiums. Post-docs work very tough hours, and salaries start at less than $3,300 per month before taxes. Hundreds of dollars a month for health insurance just isn’t possible for them — which is why our union fought for access to affordable health care in our employment contract. The University of California’s unfair refusal to cover their benefits has already taken thousands of dollars out of post-doc’s pockets, and every month costs them more.

    It is hard to believe that these scenarios are unfolding in our own backyards, but they are. After all, it’s not just educational opportunities that attract great people to the U.S., it’s hard-won rights like the principle of equal compensation for equal work. We are demanding that the University of California end this discriminatory policy and reimburse the post-docs affected by this contract violation.

    — Neal Sweeney

    President, UAW

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