The proposed contract between UC and our union, UAW Local 2865 was overwhelmingly rejected by our historic Vote NO movement at UC Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, the agreement was ratified today by a majority of votes statewide. You can see the full results on our website.
We are disappointed that we no longer have the opportunity to make needed change for ourselves and for our students through contract negotiations. But we are excited to build on the movement that emerged to Vote No. We cannot leave the task of reversing UC cuts and fee hikes to our next contract negotiations in three years. We need to reform our union and reverse UC’s policies starting now. If you want to be part of our movement, you can sign up to become a Department Coordinator by clicking here: http://www.ucstudents.org/joinus
The contract, which will take effect immediately, has been criticized by many for failing to either cover future cost of living increases or move UC’s GSI and TA pay closer to that at comparable institutions, failing to deliver a full campus fee remission, and providing an insufficient childcare subsidy.
Despite the ratification of the contract, student activists who had mobilized against the contract pointed to high voter turnout as evidence that student employees expect more from the University. More ASEs turned out to vote “No” on the contract than voted at all in the previous UAW election on campus. “GSIs, Readers, TAs, and Tutors were given an opportunity to tell the university that they need more support and deserve more respect as educators,” said Megan Wachspress, a volunteer poll worker and graduate student at UC Berkeley. “I think both the number of voters and the relative closeness of the vote reflect the anger and frustration of college educators working at the poverty level.”
Close to a third of all active ASEs across the UC system voted in the election. At Berkeley, the number of voters on the tentative agreement was more than five times the number of voters who voted on initial contract demands last Spring. Many of the voters were new members, student employees who joined the union at their polling places. At Berkeley alone, more than 175 students joined the union over four days of voting, reflecting the degree to which debate about the contract has inspired renewed interest and involvement amongst student workers in their role as workers.
“We have never seen turnout like this in union elections,” said Tim Gutierrez, a graduate student in Sociology at UC Davis who mobilized for a “no” vote. “We’ve made incredible strides toward expanding grassroots participation in union decision-making.” Grassroots efforts by a cross-campus coalition of volunteer student employees reached members who previously had little contact with the union, he added.
The unprecedented number of members voting against the contract reflects increasing debate and student involvement within the union. Opposition to the proposed contract grew steadily in the weeks after it was presented to membership on November 18th. Hundreds of students signed a “vote no” pledge in the first few hours that the pledge was active online; by the time the polls closed, more than a thousand students had publicly opposed the proposed contract.
Student employees who campaigned against the contract proposal stated that they plan to build on the momentum gained in their “no” vote campaign to continue pushing for reform within the union and to defend public education and their role in it against increasing attacks by UC Executives. “I’m disappointed with the result,” said Amanda Armstrong, a GSI in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley, “But I’m inspired by the levels of engagement and commitment to defending public education that my fellow volunteers and ‘no’ voters have demonstrated. We need to keep working to roll back the fee increases so that all Californians have access to the UCs, just as we fight to ensure that all UC employees have real power in their workplaces and their unions.”
“To me, this was about a broader set of issues than just wages and benefits for student employees,” said John Armenta, a TA at UC San Diego. “It’s about telling the UC administration that we expect them to invest in the employees who do the majority of undergraduate teaching. And it’s about showing our union leadership that we have a strong membership willing to fight for a more democratic union and a more democratic university.”