Graduate student teachers face a serious workload problem at the University of California. While we are paid for ten or twenty hours of work per week, we often end up working well in excess of those hours. This is a violation of our collective bargaining agreement, but unfortunately, these violations are usually never reported.
Workload is an issue for many of us. For instance, for a GSI with a 25% appointment, little time is left after going to lecture, sections, and office hours to attend to grading, let alone answer emails and provide extra help for students that need it. Unfortunately, these are the activities that are most crucial to the quality of instruction. In order to meet the needs of our students, we are often forced to work well in excess of the hours for which we are paid. In short, graduate student teachers often face a trade-off between compromising our efforts in the classroom, and working many hours for which we are never paid.
Many members across the UC system have also voiced concerns about work security. We often don’t hear about our appointments until days before classes begin. As TA and GSI positions are a critical source of funding for most of us, this situation harms our ability to plan our lives and complete our educations.
These workload and work security problems are exacerbated by recent cuts to the UC budget. At UC Santa Cruz, Chancellor Blumenthal recently announced a cut of 110 TA positions, and said a further cut of 120 positions could be imminent. On almost every UC campus, TA and GSI positions have been cut in many departments. These cuts are a tragedy for undergraduates, as they compromise the quality of instruction. But it’s also a serious problem for academic employees, who will need to work even more unpaid hours to pick up the slack. We expect that these will make an already serious workload issue for graduate student teachers and make it much, much worse.
Why the Contractual Grievance Procedure Doesn’t Solve the Problem
While our contract clearly states how much we should work and how much we should be paid, the way the contract says we should enforce our rights is not a tenable solution. AWDU believes that the current hours enforcement mechanism in our contract faces two critical issues. First, the current enforcement language doesn’t fully take into account our dual roles as teachers and students, and pits us against our instructors and our students. Second, it just doesn’t solve the problem. The solution to the workload problem isn’t cutting back on instruction—it’s increasing the number of total positions so we can all do our job well.
Article 31 of our contract clearly stipulates that a TA with a 50% appointment should work no more than 220 hours per quarter or 340 hours per semester. The contract’s solution to workload violations is to raise the concern with our instructor, and ultimately to file a grievance against him/her. (http://www.uaw2865.org/?page_id=42#article31)
Most of us who face workload problems never do this because the grievance itself pits us against our teachers, and the resolution pits us against our students. Our instructors are often our advisors or others on the faculty, people who hold our careers in their hands. They counsel us as researchers, write our recommendations, and help us get jobs. We depend on them and care about them. TAs and GSIs are often unwilling to confront them about hours, potentially jeopardizing our relationships with them or casting doubt on our capacity. Few are willing to file an official grievance when it’s just them, alone, grieving against a member of the faculty. The contract also stipulates that the resolution to a grievance is for the instructor to a) pay you more (have you ever heard of that happening?), or b) cut back on your work requirements (this can mean dropping assignments for students).
Finally, grieving against your instructor does not solve the real problem—the undersupply of teaching appointments, and the University’s dependence on unpaid work to provide instruction to undergraduates.
Working Together, Not Alone: A Campaign to Enforce Our Contract and Improve Our Teaching
While the problems are big, we at AWDU want to propose a solution. Instead of confronting our instructors alone, we should enforce our contract language together.
Grievances can be useful, and are an important safeguard of our rights. But we shouldn’t rely on them alone. We should be working together, with our fellow teachers, to make sure our rights are respected. We need to take our grievances to the place where it counts: the university. We need a public campaign to make clear how big a problem this is, and to push the university to respect our contract.
This model of contract enforcement does not have to pit us against the faculty. On the contrary—we want to enlist them in a common project. Faculty members care about instruction, too, and they care about us. If we take this fight to the university, they can be our allies in a campaign to enforce our contract and improve undergraduate instruction.
This campaign is in keeping with AWDU’s core beliefs about how we should run our union. We realize that we have the most power when we work together to improve our working lives. This campaign can be a way to open lines of communication amongst each other, to start talking about our work and how we can change it. And it places the power to make a difference in OUR hands—not in the hands of bureaucrats negotiating directly with the bosses. Placing real power in members’ hands is precisely what the current leadership has failed to do, and what we most want to change.
We ask you to join our campaign—first by filling out the survey, and over the next months, helping us plan and carry out our campaign.
Why Fill Out a Workload Survey?
We see this survey as a first step toward building a collective alternative to contract enforcement. We want to know more precisely where workload problems are most serious, get a better picture of what this means for members and our students, and collect stories from members that can concretely illustrate the workload problem to each other and our allies.