Protesters rally for job security, benefits, compensation for lecturers

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Jennifer Tanji/Staff

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Outside California Hall on Wednesday, approximately 100 lecturers, faculty members and students rallied to push the University of California to accept their proposals for lecturers’ job security, benefits and compensation.

That same day, the lecturers’ union, the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, held a bargaining session with the UC Office of the President at the Clark Kerr Campus.

Protesters sang songs, led chants, made speeches and read spoken-word poetry to express their dissatisfaction with the university’s treatment of lecturers.

Lecturers are nontenured faculty who work on contracts from one semester to two years in length, which are negotiated by the UC-AFT and the university. The UC-AFT is amid contract negotiations that have persisted throughout the year.

The protest began at noon with a speech from campus history lecturer Robert Chester, who said, in reference to the insecurity of lecturing appointments, that “for the welfare of the students and the faculty, the university must make the humane treatment of lecturers a priority.”

In the first six years of teaching at the university, lecturers — unlike tenured ladder faculty — do not have any guarantee that their contracts will be renewed, which is known as precontinuing.

After six years, lecturers undergo a performance review to determine whether the university will give them a continuing appointment, which provides greater job security.

Lecturers have said they often do not know if they will be appointed for the next semester until, in some cases, a month before instruction begins. Some lecturers seek out other employment as a backup plan in case their position is not renewed.

“Our working conditions are your learning conditions — if I’m stressed out trying to find work elsewhere in the coming semester … that’s time consuming, that affects prep time and that affects your state of mind,” Chester said, who is precontinuing.

Rather than seeing lectureship as a career, as some speakers at the rally did, the campus has said that lecturers are contingent faculty who fill gaps in the schedule.

“(Lecturers) often fill in for regular faculty who are on leave, provide additional teaching to cover surges in enrollment, and teach large undergraduate classes,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email in October.

Protesters took issue with a 1.5 percent raise in salary over four years that the university had previously proposed in negotiations. Katherine Renfro, a librarian at the UC Berkeley School of Law’s library, called it “an effing insult.”

Michelle Squitieri, a field representative for the UC-AFT Local 1474, which represents UC Berkeley, said the raise isn’t “remotely close to the rise in the cost of living.”

Protesters also called for Social Security benefits for part-time lecturers, who they said do not receive them. According to Squitieri, lecturers must teach for a certain amount of time each semester to receive Social Security benefits. UC-AFT President Bob Samuels said that getting those benefits was one of his goals for the negotiations.

After roughly 45 minutes, the protesters left to join a march in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri against racial discrimination on campus.

In an email, UCOP spokesperson Kate Moser said that the negotiations are ongoing and that “we have reached tentative agreements on some issues, and we are working hard to resolve the remaining issues.”

At the rally, Samuels said negotiations were going “very slowly.”

According to Mia McIver, a lecturer in the writing program at UCLA and member of the negotiating team, the union is pushing for three items: job security for lecturers, benefits and Social Security for part-time workers and a greater pay increase.

A small compromise was reached in October, where the two parties agreed to extend their current contract, which was set to expire, until Dec. 10.

“I’m optimistic in the long term,” McIver said. “It remains to be seen with this round of bargaining, but in the long term, I’m definitely confident.”

Austin Weinstein covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @aweinstein5.