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Postdoctoral workers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who have been in negotiations for a first contract for more than a year, have set a Dec. 6 strike date.
The Sinai Postdoctoral Organizing Committee-UAW, which represents about 550 researchers, alleged that Mount Sinai has “stalled and undermined the bargaining process,” and has refused to budge on their demands for fair raises, fully paid parental leave and improved child-care benefits.
The union stated on its website that Sinai administrators were ill-prepared during a bargaining session held earlier this month and did not provide any economic counter proposals. Little progress was made on non-economic demands, the postdocs said. The research institution’s apparent lack of urgency frustrated the union members, who in turn decided to set a strike date.
Andrea Joseph, a first-year postdoctoral fellow in Mount Sinai’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences and a member of the bargaining committee, said the union and the medical school had reached an impasse over issues such as housing access.
“Our housing benefit ends after three years, but many postdoctoral workers stay on for five years. It’s a big disruption to postdocs,” she told The Chief during a phone interview.
Mount Sinai officials did not return a request for comment.
She noted that the union and school administrators have made progress on some important issues, including intellectual property protections for postdocs’ research, and health and safety protections.
But the postdocs, whose current starting salary is just over $58,000 a year, are also seeking significant raises.
“It’s been this way since 2019. We are demanding a fair compensation that keeps up with inflation,” Joseph said. “What we’re hearing from a majority of postdocs is that these issues are really important to them, and they are prepared to strike if necessary.”
The lack of child-care benefits and paid parental leave contributed to one former postdoc, Jessica Wang, deciding to leave Mount Sinai in October. “I was forced to choose between my baby and doing quality research that furthers science and my career,” said Wang, who started working at Sinai’s cardiology lab in 2020 and gave birth in June.
They are also seeking to increase protections against bullying and harassment in the workplace, and improved job security.
“Postdocs can be fired at any point. We want just-cause protections,” Joseph explained.
The union has filed three unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the school since August. Among them, the SPOC-UAW alleged that attempts at intimidation have been made against international workers by mentioning the possibility of negative consequences to their visa status if they were to participate in a strike. The union also claimed that the university’s administration has made unilateral changes to existing policies and has refused to furnish information in a timely manner, according to two charges filed earlier this month.
SPOC-UAW formed in June 2022 and began bargaining for their first contract four months later. After negotiations stalled, in August, 91 percent of the 377 postdocs who voted authorized going on strike.
The Sinai researchers coordinated their fight for a fair contract along with postdoctoral workers at Columbia University, who ratified their contract on Nov. 1, averting a strike that was set to begin the same day.
“The pressure is on Mount Sinai,” Joseph said. “We hope that Mount Sinai resolves its unfair labor practices and works with us so we can avoid a strike.”
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