UC, student-union members come to agreement, avert strike

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The University of California reached a tentative agreement with the union representing student academic employees Tuesday, averting a potential 10-day strike that would have coincided with finals week on many UC campuses.

The union, representing more than 12,000 teaching assistants, readers and graders across the UC system, began negotiating a new four-year contract with the university last summer, which proposed wage increases, increased child care assistance and continued discussion on all-gender bathrooms and undocumented students, among other points.

Union members will vote on the conditions of the contract, and the outcome will determine whether the bargaining team will have to continue negotiating with the university. The strike was called off because the UC Student-Workers Union, United Auto Workers Local 2865, tentatively agreed to the terms of the contract, which includes a no-strike clause.

The 10-day strike would have started Saturday, the same day as the start of finals week for UC campuses on the quarter system. All UC campuses except UC Berkeley and UC Merced operate on the quarter system.
“We’re happy to have averted a strike that would have disrupted our students and their education during finals week,” said UC spokesperson Shelly Meron.

At UC Berkeley, some graduate students who are teaching summer courses also intended to participate in the strike to act in solidarity with union members on other UC campuses, said Amanda Armstrong, a campus graduate student who was on the bargaining team for UAW 2865.

The new four-year contract proposes a raise in salary with a 5 percent increase in the first year, a 4 percent increase in the second and third years and a 3 percent increase in the fourth year. Collectively, these new parameters amount to a 16 percent increase in salary over the four-year length of the contract.

Without the increase, student academic employees usually receive about $17,000 per year, which is lower than the average salary of student academic employees at competing universities, according to Caroline McKusick, an executive board member of UAW 2865.

The salaries for these student employees, however, are based on their part-time appointments.

The proposed increases close one-third of the gap between the average salaries of UC teaching assistants and the average salaries of teaching assistants at competing universities, according to Armstrong.

The strike was planned in opposition to the university’s alleged intimidation toward its teaching assistants, McKusick said. In April, members of UAW 2865 also went on strike against unfair labor practices and intimidation.

“We don’t condone any type of intimidation,” Meron said, adding that the university contends it has done nothing wrong or illegal and that the place to resolve these concerns is with the Public Employment Relations Board.

Armstrong said although the university was previously unwilling to discuss certain issues, including undocumented graduate students, she is pleased union members were able to make progress with the recent negotiations.

“We were really aiming high with this contract, and it paid off,” Armstrong said. “We ended up with a pretty major victory.”

Lydia Tuan is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article implied that the university is meeting with United Auto Workers Local 2865 to discuss the alleged intimidation. In fact, the university believes that it has not done anything wrong or illegal and that the place to resolve these allegations is through the Public Employment Relations Board.

A previous version of this article also implied that the annual salary for student employees are for full-time appointments. In fact, the annual salary is for part-time appointments.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted UC spokesperson Shelly Meron as stating, “It’s good to have another contract settled, and we’re happy to have averted a strike that respected our students during finals week.” In fact, Meron said, “We’re happy to have averted a strike that would have disrupted our students and their education during finals week.”