The Retirement Question

Postdocs, PERS, and PEBB

Many postdocs have the impression that if it were not for the union, their PI would not have to contribute to PERS accounts and, ultimately, more money could go to their salary or to the research of the lab.

This is not the case. Postdocs are faculty. The faculty designation for postdocs was made by the university. Postdocs are also state employees. All state employees and all faculty who work above .50FTE are required to participate in PERS.

It is also commonly held that PIs at the UO cannot be competitive for grants because of the high OPE (Other Payroll Expenses) for postdocs. It is true that OPE costs for postdocs are high. They are high for all UO employees who do not earn a large salary. The main cost driver of the high OPE is not the retirement money, which is a often a percentage of income, but, rather, the high cost of health insurance.

Like PERS, all faculty and state employees above .50FTE participate in PEBB, the agency that runs the health insurance plan. PEBB rates are fixed per person participating on the plan and are not dependent on salary. The rates are high, currently ~$1200 a month. For a postdoc member who earns $42,000 a year, the PEBB costs are roughly 34% of their salary.

Many postdocs have heard that if it were not for the union, these problems could be fixed. The union and the university have had several conversations over the last few years, including union-initiated conversations during bargaining, about how to reduce the postdoc OPE. In every conversation, we have repeated that we are open to any idea that improves the research mission of the university that also does not hurt faculty.

We have stated that if there is a way to provide postdocs (and their families) with quality health insurance that is not PEBB or not as expensive to PEBB, we are open to that conversation. We have stated that if there is a way to help postdocs save for retirement outside of PERS, we are open to that conversation. We have stated a willingness to co-lobby the legislature with the university to get postdocs out of PERS.

These conversations will continue over the coming years. If you would like to know more or be part of these conversations, please do not hesitate to contact the union office (541-636-7504) or your VP for Research Non-Tenure Track Faculty.