An amendment to the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116) that would force public universities with unionized research staffs and COMPETES Act funding to promptly disclose information required for contract negotiations passed the House Wednesday by a vote of 250 to 174. Proposed by George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, the amendment responds to the long delays that have stalled negotiations for a first contract between the University of California and the union representing the UC postdocs. At a hearing about the negotiations held in Berkeley on April 30, Miller probed a claim by UC vice president Dwaine Duckett that the university could not, after a year and a half of talks, provide certain needed employment information about the postdocs.
Universities that do not comply with the amendment’s time limits would have to present a convincing explanation or risk losing funding for Facilities & Administration costs until they forked over the required facts. Funding for grants themselves would continue.
“These scientists are among the most highly trained, highly skilled and yet lowest paid professionals in the country,” Miller said in a statement. “This amendment ensures that our federal tax dollars are well managed and that these critical investments accomplish the goal of developing the next generation of American scientists.” At the hearing, Miller declared himself shocked and dismayed by what he heard about the realities of postdocs’ working lives.
This amendment is the second step that Miller has taken in as many days to speed up the UC negotiations. It will take more than a union contract to make science a financially viable career for many of those working in university labs. How far Miller will go to improve conditions for early career scientists is unclear — but the UC postdocs appear to have a friend with power and determination.