Graduate students take labor demands to Sproul Hall

Kimberly Veklerov/Staff
Christopher Miller, a fifth-year graduate student in the English Department, holding a letter intended for Graduate Dean Andrew Szeri.

Related Posts

About 50 graduate students gathered inside Sproul Hall for two hours Tuesday afternoon in an effort to enlist the support of Graduate Dean Andrew Szeri in their ongoing labor dispute with the university.

The graduate students’ union, United Auto Workers Local 2865, represents more than 12,000 graduate students throughout the UC system and is in the midst of negotiations over a new contract with the university. Negotiations have stalled over the union’s demands for higher wages as well as what the university calls “social justice” demands, such as all-gender bathrooms for gender-nonconforming students.

The students waited outside Szeri’s office, hoping to deliver a letter outlining their position and to schedule a time to meet with him. The letter specifically asks Szeri to endorse the union’s proposals and a report from the UC Academic Council, which found the university’s stipends for graduate students were not competitive compared to those offered by similar institutions.

Szeri’s support would be significant, given his position as an administrator and an advocate for graduate students.

UCPD officers kept a close eye on the students, even videotaping them as they waited. According to UCPD Lt. Lee Harris, Szeri was on a conference call and could not meet with the students.

In addition to all-gender bathrooms, the union demanded the university extend access for undocumented graduate students and end what it said is discrimination against graduate students of color and women seeking to have children.

Dianne Klein, a spokesperson for UC Office of the President, insisted such “social justice” issues are not within the purview of the contract.

“Our labor negotiators can’t negotiate such demands,” Klein said in an email. “These are matters that need to be taken up elsewhere.”

Lilith Dornhuber de Bellesiles, a first-year graduate student in the campus department of rhetoric, said the distinction between what can and cannot be in the contract is arbitrary.

Graduate student Zachary Manfredi, also in the rhetoric department, echoed these sentiments, calling the division of economic and social justice demands “a false dichotomy,” as they all relate to workplace conditions.

In a statement, UCOP criticized the economic and the social justice proposals put forth by the union, saying the wage proposal is “vague, ambiguous and fails to move negotiations forward in a constructive manner.”

The statement went on to say the university was “disappointed” that the union chose to emphasize social justice demands, saying they were “not a central part of an employment contract.”

A group of graduate students in the English department authored the letter, which was adopted by hundreds of union members across the campus’s academic departments.

Jane Gregory, a fifth-year graduate student in English and an author of the letter, said her income is insufficient to care for her 2-year-old daughter. Instead, Gregory relies on family members for support.

UCOP recently offered the union a 25 percent increase in reimbursement to employees paying for child care and a 4.5 percent increase in wages over three years.

Gregory said the annual 1.5 percent increase does not keep up with inflation or match previous wage increases that occurred under the expired contract.

According to union bargaining team member Amanda Armstrong, that figure was increased to 6 percent over three years at last week’s round of negotiations in Santa Cruz.

The next round of negotiations between the university and the union will take place in Berkeley on Nov. 5.

Contact Kimberly Veklerov at [email protected].