An email from a UC official informing graduate students about joining a union was sent Monday, following a state amendment signed the week prior allowing graduate student researchers to be represented by unions.
Fiona Doyle, the vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the graduate division, sent out the email to all UC Berkeley graduate students, and a similar email was sent by all campuses in the UC system to their respective graduate students.
According to Maggie Downey, UC Berkeley graduate student researcher and the campus chair of United Auto Workers Local 2865, a union representing UC student workers, the email was intended to discourage UC Berkeley students from joining UAW.
The email was sent in light of Gov. Jerry Brown expanding the definition of “employee” to include all student employees at the University of California, including graduate student researchers. The new amendment allows GSRs to be represented by unions, overriding their previous status of “student.”
“Before you sign anything, it is very important that you understand what it means to sign a union card or petition,” reads the email. “If a union becomes your exclusive representative, the terms and conditions of your employment will be subject to collective bargaining. You would not be able to negotiate with your supervisors/principal investigators on wages, hours or working conditions.”
Downey described the email as a “deliberate misdirection” because any change in wage is typically attributed to a union’s efforts and not the individual’s.
According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the email contains “standard information” and was sent to “ensure that its students and employees are informed and make informed decisions.”
“The university is strictly neutral on the issue of unionization,” Gilmore said in an email. “And while we do not anticipate aggressive or intimidating behavior by either union proponents or union opponents, we want to make sure that graduate students are aware of their options should that occur.”
Downey, however, said the email indicates GSRs are currently able to negotiate salaries, which she says is not the case.
“For myself and for every academic student worker I’ve talked to, I’ve never been able to negotiate wages, hours (or) working conditions directly with my supervisor and PI,” Downey said. “I think that would actually be very inappropriate. … These workers might face things like being perceived as pushy or needy when they advocate for their wages. That’s just a really unfair thing to ask workers to do.”
The wages for GSRs did increase Oct. 1, in part because of UAW’s efforts, Downey said. In the fiscal year 2016, the annual salary of a GSR ranged from $37,956 to $74,388 — this range is projected by UC Office of the President to increase to $39,096 to $76,620 for the fiscal year 2017.
Downey, however, said these numbers assume the individual is working 40 hours a week, and most GSRs make a “fraction of that.”
“I felt like the email indicated that, for some reason, the wages for GSIs would be determined by the union,” Downey said. “And that is just categorically untrue. … We would never agree to wages that are lower than the ones we have now.”