Student workers union files charges with state board against university

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Almost seven months into negotiations with the university, the UC student workers union accused the University of California of bad-faith bargaining last week, filing unfair labor practice charges with the state public labor board.

In charges submitted to the board Thursday, United Auto Workers Local 2865 — a union representing more than 12,000 academic student employees, including student instructors, readers and undergraduate tutors — alleges the university refused to bargain over two key issues: removing graduate student instructor term limits as well as allowing union members to sit down with academic leadership when determining class size and student-faculty ratios.

The union — which informally presented its charges to UC President Janet Napolitano during the public comment session of Thursday’s UC Board of Regents meeting — believes both issues fall under the scope of union representation as workload issues and are therefore negotiable, whereas the university sees them as a prerogative of UC management alone.

The charges submitted to the California Public Employment Relations Board against the university are the first step in obtaining a legal interpretation by the board of state laws that governs labor relations between UC management and its employees, according to union bargaining team member Josh Brahinsky. If the board finds the charges have legal standing, it will issue a complaint to the university on behalf of the union.

“The learning conditions for UC students are the working conditions for more than 12,000 teachers represented by our union,” said UC Santa Cruz graduate student and union member Brian Malone to the regents. “Yet management says these issues should not concern us.”

As of Friday afternoon, the university had yet to receive formal notification of the union’s charges, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.

“Union representatives — or anyone, for that matter — certainly have the right to speak publicly about any issue that is of concern to them,” Klein said in an email. “But a labor contract pertains to wages and working conditions and benefits.”

In 2011, the UC Academic Senate submitted a report to UC officials stating the student-faculty ratio would continue to increase as long as campuses lacked the resources to hire more permanent faculty. According to 2013 UC data, the ratio was 21.3 to 1 at UC Berkeley and 23.5 to 1 systemwide during the 2010-11 academic year.

In a report it generated last year, the union cited the senate’s report to argue persistently high student-faculty ratios are evidence of “administrative mismanagement” by the university.

In the fall, the board announced an investigation of the university in response to a different set of allegations from the university’s largest union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.

The university and the student worker union are tentatively scheduled to meet again in early or mid-February.

Jeff Landa covers city news. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JeffLanda.