Public Employment Relations Board considers charge filed by UC student-workers union

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The Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, has taken another step in examining an unfair-practice charge filed by the UC student-workers union in November, which accuses the UC Berkeley School of Law of mistreating a student-worker enrolled in a “self-supporting” program.

The charge, filed by United Auto Workers Local 2865, alleges that although union member Julie Barrett was entitled to a fee remission under the union’s contract, Berkeley Law deemed her ineligible because she was enrolled in UC Berkeley’s Master of Laws, or LLM, program — a self-supporting program. Self-supporting programs are graduate professional-degree programs that do not receive state funding.

After a union member helped Barrett file a grievance about the denial of the remission, the charge alleges, the campus terminated her position as a reader. The union further charges that Barrett had an employment offer at Berkeley Law revoked because of another grievance the union filed about her termination and then was denied a change of thesis advisers.

On Wednesday, PERB’s Office of the General Counsel issued a complaint outlining which state laws would be violated if these allegations were proven true. If the university denied Barrett fee remission because of her enrollment in the LLM program, despite that policy not already being in the union’s contract — and without conferring first with the union — it would have violated labor law related to bargaining rights, the complaint said.

The university now has 20 calendar days from the complaint’s service to respond with an answer, either accepting or denying individual points asserted by the charge. Then, according to General Counsel Felix De La Torre, the parties involved will attempt to reach a settlement. If no such settlement can be made, the allegations will go to trial.

UC spokesperson Shelly Meron emphasized that the allegations made by the union are still unproven.

“(The complaint) is part of the PERB grievance process and the university will respond accordingly,” Meron said in an email.

For Barrett, the case brings to light broader issues of the role of self-supporting programs within the UC system. There are more than 50 self-supporting programs in the UC system, which generate more than $100 million in fee revenue annually.

Barrett cited the alleged denial of her fee remission as evidence that the programs potentially detract from the university’s public mission.

“The bigger issue is that the university is a public university — it has public obligations,” Barrett said.

The union’s current contract, which began last June, specifies that academic student employees who are enrolled in self-supporting programs and meet certain criteria are eligible to receive a partial fee remission, “equivalent in dollar amount to what an eligible (academic student employee) enrolled in a UC state-supported program would receive for tuition and student services fee.”

Melissa Wen is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.