After five months of negotiations and repeated displays of bad faith from the University of California, the UAW has recommended that we, as graduate students, accept a new contract that makes no significant gains over our current contract. A substantial minority of the bargaining committee voted against this tentative agreement. We must join them in voting to reject it.
Over these past five months, the UC has engaged in systematic stalling, illegal bargaining practices, union busting and outright deceit and dishonesty. The bargaining team came down from an initial 7 percent raise demand to 5 percent, and then to 4 percent, while management moved from 1 to 2 percent. These ridiculous “compromises” — from a 7 percent pay increase to these sub-inflation wages — were made quickly and then were tabled for almost two months. With the projected inflation rate around 3 percent, this is effectively a 1 percent pay cut each year for the duration of this contract. For the UAW to accept the base offer of the UC under these conditions is appalling. Also, UC graduate student instructors and teaching assistants earn 7 percent less than their colleagues at competing institutions, while the UC Regents approved $11.5 million in additional executive increases and bonuses this year.
The e-mails sent out by the UAW Bargaining Committee highlight the gains that were made with the childcare subsidy, increasing it to $600 per quarter. We applaud this increase as a necessary service. But this extra money merely fills in a gap left from the last rounds of contract negotiations. The total cost of this increase to the UC is only $75,000 system-wide. With 12,000 Academic Student Employees, this amounts to $6.25 per person. It is laughable to think that this small concession is reason to accept the UC’s paltry wage increase.
The dissenting bargaining committee members have pointed out that what wasn’t on the contract is also important to consider. Appointment notifications can still be given after the beginning of the quarter, TA positions can be outsourced, and there is no limit on class sizes. Guaranteed affordable housing was maneuvered off the bargaining agenda by the statewide leadership, but it is something that greatly affects us in Irvine, one of the most expensive cities in the nation.
If you are an undergrad, support your TA. Tell him or her that you support a “No” vote and a livable wage. If you are a grad student, vote your conscience. Just remember: Anyone that asks you to vote “Yes” on this contract is likely employed by the UAW International. No self-respecting graduate student who has participated in bargaining meetings or has been paying attention to what is going on is going to try to convince others that this contract is the best we can get. To prove that we can get a better contract, all we have to do is show the university that we won’t settle for anything less.
Therefore, we are calling on each member to vote “No” on the contract ratification, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2. We want to be clear that we are doing so as a unified gesture — not to divide and weaken the union, but to prepare the membership to fight on our behalf for better wages and working conditions. We hope that the UAW leadership views a strong “No” vote to be a sign that they have our support to demand a better contract. If they go back to the table, they will come back with a better contract. We just have to send them there!
Jordan Brocious is a physics graduate student. He can be reached at email@example.com.