The union that represents graduate students throughout the UC system is currently renegotiating its contract with the UC system. The union is pushing for better work conditions and higher pay for graduate students, but has yet to come to an agreement.
UAW 2865, the Union that represents over 12,000 Academic Student Employees (ASEs) in the UC system, is currently in the process of renegotiating its contract, which is set to expire on September 30, with the University Office of the President (UCOP). Therefore, UAW and representatives from UCOP are attempting to conclude negotiations before the contract expires and have already met at several UC campuses including UC Berkley on July 23 and 24, UCI on August 9, UC Merced on September 12 and 13 and have several more meetings scheduled before the contract deadline.
The union is petitioning for a variety of demands including an increase in pay and smaller class sizes for ASEs, increased stipends for living expenses such as housing and childcare and other demands known as the ‘Sunshine Demands,’ which formed the base of the Union’s demands according to UAW 2865 Irvine Unit Recording Secretary Jessica Conte.
“We have 22 demands which cover everything from wages to childcare, parking and transportation, things like leaves, healthcare, affordable housing, class size. Those are just some of them,” Conte said.
According to Conte, the ‘Sunshine Demands’ were assembled through surveys of graduate students to reveal what they wanted to change within the UC system. The main priorities were raising stipends, reducing class sizes and work hours and expanding rights and opportunities to disadvantaged students including children of undocumented immigrants. The proposal regarding undocumented student’s rights was rejected by the UC system. There have been other problems for the union as well. According to Conte, UC representatives are charging large fees for statistics regarding graduate students such as salaries, employment statistics and other information which weakened their ability to negotiate proposed stipends.
AUW representatives including Conte are considering also negotiating for housing stipends for graduate students as well, due to high housing costs in California. Currently ASEs do not have housing agreements under their contracts because of their status as students. However, Conte feels this issue is affecting many of the students she represents.
“We had a delegation that included partners of graduate students, undergrads who live in housing [and] also different Academic Student Employees who live in housing come and talk about the cost burden of housing and how it affects them in their day-to-day lives, and from that support from different people in housing we are building up to a proposal and hopefully, maybe some more planned actions and delegations around it.”
Whether they will succeed has yet to be seen. Conte believes that students and staff should stand with the union as the outcomes of these negotiations will affect the quality of education within the UC system.
Conte is not alone in her belief that students and staff should be interested in the negotiations. According to UAW’s current head, Stewart Tyson Petros, the issue affects everyone in the UC system, not just graduate students.
“The conditions of our teaching and our research are intertwined intimately with the quality of the University of California as a research institution and as a teaching institution. So this affects the lives of graduate students, but undergraduates as well,” he said.
Petros believes that issues affecting graduate students such as ASEs will ultimately affect undergraduate students as well. One way he cited was that increased stress and larger class sizes would negatively affect graduate students’ ability to teach and deny undergraduates opportunities they otherwise would have. He also believes potential graduates might decide against coming to UCI because better offers may lead other graduate students to attend other universities which would result in a loss of potential.
Petros cited a report by the UC Academic Council titled “Report of the Task force on Competitiveness in Academic Graduate Student Support” that argued that the UC system is becoming uncompetitive due to low stipends for graduate students as compared to other public universities. The report claimed, “UC’s graduate student support has been falling behind that of its comparator universities for a number of years, and has dropped to uncompetitive levels. In order to continue to attract the very best students, UC must improve the competitiveness of its graduate student support.”
The report also lists several recommendations to the UC system, including the raising of stipends for graduate students, the lowering of tuition rates and increasing employment opportunities for graduates.
Graduate Student Instuctor (GSI) and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) employment is a major issue for graduate students and the union. A lack of employment opportunities has led the union to appeal to the UC system to remove barriers for employment for GSIs. This issue has yet to be resolved and is still under negotiation.
Representatives from the UCOP are attempting to conclude negotiations soon and are hopeful that negotiations will conclude quickly, according to UCOP Media Relations member Shelly Meron. However, Conte does not feel the need to rush negotiations because of the September 30 deadline.
“It is not uncommon for Unions to continue contract negotiations past contract expiration. That is very common.”
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