So, UAW Local 2865, huh? What’s that?
The UAW Local 2865 represents all Academic Student Employees (this includes GSIs, non-student lecturers and teachers, and undergraduate tutors, etc.) in the UC system. Across all campuses, there are about 12,000 academic student employees. The right to union representation was won in the late 90s after labor laws (HEERA) were passed affirming student employees’ rights as workers. The UC system finally recognized the union in 1998 after finals strike in which grades were withheld from the administration. A first contract was agreed upon in 1999.
What has the union done for ASEs in the UC?
It may sound incredible, but without the union we would not have benefits as basic as fee remission or dental and vision care. Or protections about appointment notification, discharge from a position, and workload violations. Or childcare reimbursement! Without the union, we would be “at will employees” and could be fired at any moment for any reason. The union contract represents all ASEs, whether they are members or not.
Wait, we were in bargaining? What does that even mean?
Yes. Our contract expired on Sept. 30th, 2010, so members of the union have been bargaining all summer with representatives of the UC. The contract was not settled by the deadline so our old contract was extended several times while the bargaining teams continued negotiating. A tentative agreement was reached November 16, 2010 and will now have to be ratified by the union membership to take effect. That ratification vote will take place November 29 through December 2, 2010. Since our contract will be valid for three years, the outcome of this year’s bargaining will have a profound impact upon the living and working conditions of current graduate students. Also the first bargaining unit to renegotiate since the budget crisis, we set an important tactical precedent to other unions as well.
What were the initial proposals?
You can find the initial proposals from UAW 2865 website and the UC Labor Relations website. Note that both the UC and the UAW asked for more that they were likely to get, a common initial scenario in collective bargaining situations.
Who are the people who comprise each bargaining team?
For the UAW, the recording secretary and unit chair of each unit (each campus) may be on the bargaining team. These positions are democratically elected by the members in each unit. In practice, that means that usually about one grad student per campus is on the team. A negotiator from the UAW international also attends bargaining to help us out.
For the UC, the bargaining team comes from Labor Relations division at the UC Office of the President. The lead negotiator is Peter Chester, who has some people that come to support him during bargaining. Fun fact: Peter Chester was the lawyer who worked for the UC to prevent graduate students from unionizing in the late 90s. He was kept on as a negotiator, and has been involved with some aspect of negotiating nearly every ASE contract.
How does the bargaining team decide which things to prioritize?
Due to low participation by the membership in recent years, the bargaining team usually runs more or less autonomously. In the last six months or so, a group of students has become more active in the union. As a result, the members have been able to pass resolutions at membership meetings which place pressure on the bargaining team to prioritize issues which the members have agreed are important. The more active members are involved, the more the decisions of the bargaining team will reflect the needs of each and every campus.
Did any of this work?
Rank-and-file attendance at bargaining resulted in the first session at which concessions were not made.
How are these actions different than all the protests that have happened on campus in the last year?
While last year’s protests were often aimed at Sacramento, or toward broad proposals for shared governance and institutional reform, we think our demands as Academic Student Employees are quite modest–we need a wage increase that’s not a pay cut and we need a real childcare subsidy. In both cases a study of the budget reveals that the UC can afford it but is instead choosing to deprioritize the university’s teaching and educational mission.