After nearly six months of contract negotiations and tense standoffs, members of UAW Local 2865 overwhelmingly approved a new contract with the University of California earlier last month.
UAW Local 2865 is the union that represents more than 11,000 student employees in the UC system who work as teaching assistants, readers and tutors.
‘The bargaining process is one of give-and-take all throughout. The agreement that was reached is the best summary of the compromises that both sides made,’ said Paul Schwartz, a spokesman for the UC.
‘I am satisfied about the new agreement,’ said sociology graduate student Sabeen Sandhu. ‘My friends and colleagues are satisfied as well. We are deeply grateful to the bargaining team.’
The new agreement includes a 1.5 percent wage increase that was given to student employees on Jan. 1. A 1.5 percent general wage increase will also be given following any Academic Senate faculty merit increase.
The university will continue to cover 100 percent of the health insurance premiums and education and registration fees for student employees. The university has also agreed to cover any increases in these fees if they rise during the term of this new contract, which will last through Sept. 30, 2006.
‘Rights and benefits of summer session [student employees] will be greatly improved,’ said Rajan Mehta, a UAW bargaining team member from UC Berkeley in a statement issued by the union last month. ‘They will receive near-equivalent compensation as [student employees] during the academic year, and gain rights that they were previously exempted from, such as workload protections, appointment notification and appointment security.’
As a result of the compromise, all unfair labor practice charges filed by both sides against each other were withdrawn.
‘We are hopeful that this contract signals a new era of productive and cooperative labor relations between the union and the university,’ Mehta said.
For the university, the ‘primary objectives for this contract were to get an agreement that recognizes the important role that [student employees] play in helping faculty meet the university’s teaching needs, and also of ensuring the union’s promise for labor peace during the contract, and this agreement does both,’ Schwartz said.
This new agreement comes after the previous contract ended on Sept. 30, 2003. Union members held a one-day protest on Oct. 3 and announced plans to strike on the week of Nov. 30 before matters were resolved.
The plans for a strike were especially troublesome for the university because it would have come right before final exams, while student employees were still teaching courses and in the process of administering and grading exams.
‘I was relieved,’ said Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology. ‘The TAs are essential to our educational work, so naturally we were concerned about losing them at a crucial time in the quarter … my TAs were supportive of the strike and I was supportive of them.’
A professor in the School of Humanities who wished to remain anonymous was in support to give TA’s more security throughout the academic year for their teaching assignments in discussion and lab sections.
‘I felt that family health coverage, timely notification of assignments and the prohibition on changing these assignments were very important elements of the university-TA relationship. I am pleased that these are in place,’ the professor said.
On the nature of the work of TAs, he added, ‘On the other hand, I have never agreed with the assessment of the TA teaching assignments that I am familiar with as purely work for wages. I was dismayed that some of the TA’s intended to strike, but that is their choice and I respect that.’
‘Many [professors] voiced opposition to hiring external graders if we went on strike,’ Sandhu said. ‘They too were once graduate students.’
Emil Kuruvilla is a second-year international studies major and the School of Social Sciences’ ASUCI representative.
‘It’s unfortunate that [student employees] didn’t get everything they wanted. Yeah they got a couple of things, but this issue isn’t over yet. There is still going to be a fight, and we still might see strikes in the future, because they will still want certain things and they deserve it,’ Kuruvilla said.
Nevertheless, for the time being, relations between the union and university are back to normal and undergraduates were spared of any potential repercussions.
‘A strike would have hurt us during finals so I’m glad that they got things straightened out without having to go on strike,’ said fourth-year physics major Shardul Varma.