The Chickens Are Roosting, Do YOU Know Where Your 403(b) Is?

Since the first day faculty began organizing United Academics, one of the requests our postdoctoral faculty had was for the union to fix the “PERS problem.” Postdocs and PIs were paying into PERS accounts, but since most postdocs were not state employees for more than 5 years, few were ever vesting in their accounts.

The money paid in was remaining in the PERS system, but never benefitted the faculty for whom it was paid. It was also difficult for PIs to compete for grants because they had to include retirement payments into their cost calculations when applying for grants. Scientists at other universities do not have to include these payments, making our labs less competitive for grant money.

After United Academics officially came into being, some of our first conversations with administrators focused on fixing the PERS problem. We raised the issue at the bargaining table both times we negotiated with the university. Unfortunately, the only real solution was to change the PERS law, not something the UO or UA could easily do.

During the last legislative session, we worked with the Office of the Vice President of Research and Innovation to draft a legislative fix. Our lobbyists worked with the University’s lobbyists to move the bill through the legislature. Because there was combined support for the bill from the university and the faculty, we got it done!

Many legislators initially saw the bill as taking something away from workers, so union support for the bill was essential. Head of the UO Postdoc Association Phil Parker spoke directly with legislators, along with fellow members of the Politics Committee and UO lobbyists, to explain why this bill was important to postdocs and research faculty alike.

Postdoctoral faculty hired after January 1 and their PIs are no longer required to contribute money to PERS. Instead, these faculty will be able to participate in the university’s 403(b) program if they want to save for retirement. Combined with the significant bump in postdoc pay through the contract’s requirement that salaries adhere to the NIH standard, we believe this is a great solution to the PERS problem.

Working together with the university and the UO Postdoc Association, we were able to positively resolve an issue that has plagued the university for years.