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University of Washington postdoctoral researchers and research scientists/engineers began striking Wednesday over pay and other issues.

Becca Bluett, a member of the postdoc bargaining committee for UAW 4121, said the university has 2,400 of these two types of employees—the research scientists/engineers are working on their first contract, and roughly half of the 900 postdocs are union members and are seeking a new contract. She said Wednesday she didn’t yet know how many were actually striking, but expected sizable participation.

For postdocs, the dispute involves the union pushing the university to increase their currently $65,500 minimum salaries to a point where, under the state’s Minimum Wage Act, they wouldn’t be eligible for overtime in the future.

“Assuming folks follow the law, paying postdocs overtime will be extremely expensive for them,” Bluett said. “They don’t seem to believe us about that.”

Or, she said, the university believes it will actually limit postdocs to 40 hours per week. She said faculty members don’t want to deal with the administrative burden of tracking hours or the liability from someone claiming they were pressured to work unreported overtime hours.

“I know very few postdocs who would be willing to take a position in a lab where they’re told, ‘You may only work 40 hours a week,’” she said.

The union is requesting, generally, an 8 percent increase for two types of postdocs at the university, she said, and pushing for faculty members to be allowed to supplement the pay of a third type.

The university didn’t provide interviews Wednesday.

“The union has made arguments both for and against being overtime eligible,” a university spokesman wrote in an email. “On the one hand, they lobbied heavily to be included as an employee group subject to overtime eligibility. On the other hand, they are now claiming that being overtime eligible is untenable, and that they should be paid above established thresholds to exempt them.”

In a statement, the university also said it's “very disappointed” about the “decisions to strike after some significant progress was made in both negotiations recently.”

It said it gave postdocs a 13 percent raise in January and is currently offering them 2 percent more this year and another 2 percent next year.

For research scientists/engineers, the university said it’s offering “wage increases over the next three years of 4 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent in addition to significant new increases in minimums, which total nearly 30 percent worth of increases.”

Bluett said research scientists/engineers are requesting 4 percent raises in each of the three years of the proposed new contract, “plus market adjustments to the minimums of their salary ranges.”