Santa Monica, CA – Graduate student researchers at the Pardee Rand Graduate School (PRGS) have voted to form their union, PRGS Organizes-United Auto Workers (PRGSO-UAW). The vote, which was tallied today by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), was 51 to 26 — 66% of the 121 Graduate Student Researchers in the unit voted in favor of unionization.

“We are excited that our graduate worker community was able to come together to win this election,” said Tara Blagg, a 4th-year Graduate Student Researcher. “We are looking forward to bargaining with our employer to improve working conditions and create a more equitable environment for us to contribute to RAND.”

PRGS is a graduate program embedded within the RAND Corporation, a leading think tank and government contractor. Graduate student workers at PRGS are staffed on RAND Corporation research projects, which include social welfare, healthcare, education, and military research among other policy areas.

This vote to unionize is part of a wave of votes to unionize graduate student workers and think tank researchers across the U.S. In 2021, The Brookings Institution and The Urban Institute voluntarily recognized unions formed by think tank researchers with the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU). Since 2021, student workers at the University of California, the University of Southern California (USC), the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Western Washington all unionized with the UAW.

“Building a union with my coworkers has been an empowering way to put our policy studies into action,” said Alejandra Lopez, a 2nd-year Graduate Student Researcher. “I’m excited for the opportunity to swiftly begin negotiations with RAND to make our workplace conducive to the highest quality research.”

PRGS Organizes-UAW believes that this unionization effort will help strengthen RAND’s institutional commitment to equity, ​equality and democracy, organizational values that underpinned the RAND Corporation’s long and influential history of policy research.

“We are thrilled to welcome RAND’s Graduate Student Workers to the UAW family,” said Mike Miller, Director of UAW Region 6. “The diligence and commitment these workers showed in forming their union is celebrated across the labor movement, from aerospace workers to researchers raising the standards in higher education. We are looking forward to standing behind them as they bargain their first contract.”

Today, the Supreme Court upended 50 years of precedent to make access to higher education more difficult for students of color. Students of color often come from working class families and rely on higher education to access good jobs and stable careers. Access to higher education is a labor issue.

This latest anti-worker, divide-and-conquer tactic from the Court seeks to block the pathway to good jobs both on and off campuses. The 100,000 UAW members working in higher education, from coast to coast, from the public to the private sector, stand united against this attack on working people.

“Institutionalized and systemic racism continue to disproportionately affect students of color, and affirmative action has been a small yet significant step in addressing these inequalities,” said Woohee Kim, a working member of the Harvard Graduate Students Union, UAW Local 5118. “No Supreme Court decision can erase the racism that permeates into every social fabric of our society. Affirmative action is necessary for a diverse workforce and a multicultural democracy that champions diversity, equity, and justice.”

“In California, the state’s 1995 ban on affirmative action in public education and public sector employment immediately devastated diversity at UC,” said Yunyi Li, Vice President of UAW Local 2865. “It’s a national embarrassment to see the US Supreme Court embrace this massive setback for higher education.”

Hundreds will gather for a strike kickoff rally at 12pm on Red Square.

Seattle, WA – 2,400 UW Postdoctoral Researchers and Research Scientists/Engineers (RSEs) at the University of Washington are on strike after not reaching agreement with UW administration in bargaining. They will head to the picket lines beginning at 5am. Hundreds will gather Wednesday for a strike kickoff rally at 12pm on Red Square. Press are encouraged to attend.

“We love our research but UW left us no choice. We will be striking until we get a fair contract. Our priority has always been ensuring that science at UW is sustainable and inclusive, and that means fair pay so we can all afford rent, take care of our families, and stay in the careers we love,” said Rebecca Bluett, Postdoctoral Scholar at UW.

“Today Postdocs, Researchers, members of the UW community, and community at large are standing together to hold the UW administration accountable. Through our collective action, we hope to compel them to bargain in good faith, so we can finally address the urgent issues we face as researchers committed to our careers in science and research,” said Levin Kim, President of UAW 4121, the union of Postdocs, RSEs and Academic Student Employees at UW.

Picket locations are as follows (see map below):

  • NE 45th St & Memorial Way NE (SW corner)
  • 15th Ave NE & W Stevens Way NE (NE corner)
  • Montlake Triangle: NE Pacific St & Montlake Blvd NE
  • SLU: Mercer St (between 8th and 9th Ave N)

At issue still for RSEs are three core demands: support for an inclusive workforce—including the same harassment prevention program for RSEs that is available for Postdocs and student employees, support for childcare, and fair compensation. For Postdocs, the biggest sticking point is that UW is refusing to pay Postdocs a living wage in line with state minimum wage standards.

The impacts of the strike will be felt across the university system and beyond. There are 6,000 Academic Student Employees, graduate students who work as Research and Teaching Assistants at UW, who have been pledging to respect the picket lines. The MLK Labor Council sanctioned the strike, as did the Joint Council for Teamsters 28. Collectively these labor organizations represent over 100,000 workers in King County, who will be receiving information about the strike and be urged to not cross the picket line.

Research Scientists/Engineers (RSEs) and Postdocs perform a wide range of critical research, from developing new therapies to fight disease, designing policy to tackle climate change, advancing new technologies that will shape the future of research, and much more. Postdocs and RSEs are part of UAW 4121, the union of just shy of 1,500 staff researchers, 900 Postdocs, and over 6,000 Academic Student Employees at UW.

Each unit has been in bargaining with the UW administration for months—Postdocs are negotiating a successor agreement and these are initial contract negotiations for RSEs, who won their union one year ago on June 10.

Updates will be shared as they become available.

The neutrality statement is the first step towards establishing a historic climate-tech workforce partnership; catalyst is SPARKZ exploring GigaCampus in central California

LIVERMORE, CALIFORNIA/DETROIT—SPARKZ, the next-generation battery manufacturer re-engineering the battery supply chain, and the United Auto Workers announced today they have signed a memorandum of understanding establishing a national labor-management agreement and statement of neutrality. The agreement initiates a strong foothold for the union in battery manufacturing and provides SPARKZ with a partnership to recruit and train the best workers in America.

SPARKZ is finalizing plans for its first GigaCampus location in central California to expand commercialization of its zero-cobalt, zero-nickel battery, which will initially employ 500 workers and could grow to as many as 3,000.

“SPARKZ is proud to partner with the UAW to secure the American worker’s place in the new energy economy, while re-engineering the battery supply chain domestically,” said SPARKZ founder and CEO Sanjiv Malhotra. “This partnership is a symbol of American innovation and American workers building a high-quality energy future together, while fighting to end foreign dominance of advanced batteries.”

SPARKZ believes the agreement with UAW will make it more competitive against industry leaders by leveraging the talents of auto workers that focus on the highest quality and safety standards.

“Workers across the battery supply chain, from electric vehicles to agricultural equipment, must have the right to organize,” said UAW President Shawn Fain. “We applaud SPARKZ for doing the right thing in agreeing not to interfere with workers’ right to join a union and look forward to winning a strong contract that sets the standard for the battery industry.”

“UAW members in California have a critical role to play in the fight for climate justice,” said UAW Region 6 Director Mike Miller. “Collective bargaining in the emerging green economy is a key piece of that work.”

California will be the first location for the partnership. SPARKZ has committed to over 800 new, full-time jobs and over $700 million of investment in the state.

“The future happens in California first. As we continue leading the clean energy industry of tomorrow, we have to ensure the hardworking people who build our world-class economy are valued and prioritized,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom. SPARKZ and the United Auto Workers are helping us lead that charge by recognizing the climate technology we need should be made by America’s best-trained workforce. Thanks to their partnership, the next generation batteries manufactured in California will be more sustainable, more efficient, and help secure the energy storage supply chain to ensure California achieves its zero-carbon emission goals.”

SPARKZ announced plans in 2022 to set up shop in West Virginia for material processing and production of cells and modules. The project, projected to begin manufacturing in 2023, will help coalfield families transition into the new energy economy. SPARKZ will continue to collaborate exclusively with the United Mine Workers of America in West Virginia.

Founded by industry veteran and former U.S. Department of Energy executive Sanjiv Malhotra, SPARKZ will begin commercialization of a high energy-density Cobalt-free, American-made Lithium-ion battery, while continuing its groundbreaking research and development focused on re-engineering the rest of the battery supply chain.

The company’s first commercial product will eliminate cobalt, traditionally used in the cathode of a Lithium-ion battery, with the objective of reducing the cost of lithium battery production in the U.S., while also eliminating a primary environmental concern, and reducing chokepoints created by a foreign supply-chain. SPARKZ will be announcing its customer and OEM partnerships soon.

SPARKZ was founded in late 2019 and has been in innovation mode. SPARKZ has completed the transfer of 6 patents from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which continues to be an R&D partner. In addition to being 100% cobalt-free, the patents also reduce production time significantly and enhance battery performance.