Fair and stable conditions for research are more important than ever amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
A national coalition of UAW locals has banded together to call for an increase in federal funds for the universities that are on the frontlines of performing COVID-19 related research and response work. The locals represent more than 45,000 workers who perform cutting-edge research in labs at the nation’s most prestigious universities, including the University of California, the University of Washington, Columbia University, UCONN and others.
The coalition is delivering letters to members of Congress today, and will begin a series of direct actions this week. Accompanying letters from UAW International President Rory Gamble were also sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Thousands of UAW Academic Workers are currently focused on researching COVID-19, potential treatments and the development of a vaccine. In addition, many are in the midst of groundbreaking cancer research, climate change modeling and other important work. Some also perform crucial teaching and administrative tasks that keep universities functioning. Without additional support from the federal government for research institutions and these individuals, critical contributions to science and learning will be lost. Universities may falter, undermining the economic support they provide to regions across the country and compounding the economic misery. Many frontline academic workers have international citizenship and/or fixed-term appointments, meaning that access to social safety net programs like unemployment insurance is not guaranteed.
“We are asking the federal government to commit to three things,” said Kavitha Iyengar, President of UAW Local 2865, which represents more than 19,000 student workers across the UC system. “And with these three pillars of support in place, we can continue to keep our universities strong and responsive to the fight against COVID-19:
- Immediate financial support, including funding to allow continuity of critical research projects, for Universities to continue to employ all personnel until operations return to full speed.
- Support for international students and scholars to ensure that all may remain safely in place and continue to work and study in the future.
- Additional funding for financial aid so students can continue to have access to affordable instruction.”
“UAW Academic Workers are integral to the ability of universities to emerge from this crisis and continue to perform leading-edge research and instruction,” said David Parsons, President of UAW 4121, which represents Academic Student Employees and Postdocs at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We are asking the federal government to step up and support the workers and institutions that are leading the scientific charge against this virus and powering universities in this new reality.”
“Many UAW Academic Workers are on the frontlines of the response, studying the disease to understand transmission and treatment, organizing drives for PPE and childcare for essential workers, and supporting the transition to online instruction for students across the country,” said Anke Schennink, President of UAW Local 5810, which represents Postdoctoral Scholars and Academic Researchers across the University of California. “Additional investment here will make us safer and pay for itself many times over.”
“We are among those who are trained and able to process virus samples,” said Steven Cook, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Columbia. “So we are volunteering to put our expertise to work. We have processed thousands of samples, providing additional capacity for research efforts and lessening the burden on the medical community. And we are asking the federal government to support us and other research intuitions so that we can continue to move forward.”
UAW Academic Workers have a long record of civic and political engagement. They were instrumental in turning back the Grad Tax, securing an Optional Practical Training extension for international researchers in STEM fields and the inclusion of Postdocs in the federal overtime regulations. They are also vocal critics of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.