A labor union representing UC student workers held a rally timed to coincide with the expiration of their contract with the University of California on Tuesday on Sproul Plaza to raise awareness of the issues being discussed during negotiations for a new contract.
UAW Local 2865 wants to keep protections for student workers that are already in place and win further concessions from the university. The rally largely focused on graduate student instructors. Supporters hoped to preserve current contract provisions, such as working-hour limits and fee remissions, and gain additional benefits such as increased child care subsidies and assistance with paying for campus parking.
Robbie Nelson, a graduate student in the department of history and a member of the union, said the union hopes to inform the community about important issues affecting student workers, such as smaller class sizes, more personalized instruction, student input in the university’s development of online education and discrimination against transgender and undocumented students.
Elizabeth Zumpe, a graduate student at the School of Education and a union member, emphasized those concerns.
“The increases in class sizes is a big concern for GSIs, especially since the budget cuts during the financial crisis,” she said. “Class sizes went up and do not seem to have gone back down again since then.”
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who attended the rally in solidarity with the union, said it took a tremendous amount of effort for the union to gain the university’s recognition.
“I am hoping that with a new president, the UC might change the tone of negotiations and try to negotiate in a more reasonable way,” he said. “I think that it is great that the students have fought so hard to get their union recognized, and now they are fighting hard to get a new contract.”
Although union members expressed concern over large classes sizes during the rally, Dianne Klein, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, said the university’s negotiators do not have the capacity to control class sizes. Klein also said UCOP is eager to work through the issues the union presented and is hopeful they will reach a consensus.
The Coalition for Public Education, a recently formed unofficial student organization, used the rally as a platform to blast incoming UC president Janet Napolitano’s record on immigration enforcement as Homeland Security chief and question how her policies might impact minority students, who they claim are underrepresented in GSI positions.
The group’s contribution to the rally involved traditional Aztec dance, complete with an incense burner and vibrant feather headdresses meant to pay homage to Latinos, who make up a large majority of the undocumented immigrants deported during Napolitano’s tenure.
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