The new union contract is a failure of union solidarity

Olivia Staser/Staff

The week before last, the bargaining team for UAW 2865 — the union representing teaching assistants, associate instructors, tutors and readers across the UC system — failed its members spectacularly by positioning its current contract offer as a success.

Much ink has been spilled in the intervening days about the finer points of the contract’s 3 percent wage offer and the mechanics of how the vote to ratify was cast. There are a variety of disagreements regarding whether or not this wage offer was acceptable, and regarding the voting process. Instead, I’d like to focus on language designed to protect immigrant and international student workers, and student workers of color. This contract language has been framed in official union communications as overwhelmingly groundbreaking. Yet what was omitted, and sacrificed in settling without a strike threat, bears examination.

The original demands ratified by our membership focused fundamentally on creating a contract that would work for all members with our unique and varied needs. In particular, more than half of members who took our 3,000-person membership survey highlighted the importance of offering sanctuary protections to at-risk immigrant students and finding solutions to police militarization and brutality. We set out to do just that, with working groups that included bargaining team members, elected leaders and rank-and-file members who collectively researched these topics and drafted contract language around them. Initially proposed language would have implemented protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status recipients in the event that their visa status was revoked. Even UC President Janet Napolitano, who once worked for the Department of Homeland Security, has cited the importance of stronger protections for immigrants.

Language that was still being discussed in the final sessions of bargaining called for a task force to implement trainings on implicit bias and mental health crisis intervention for police. It also demanded that the union be notified when any represented workers are under police surveillance — including video cameras and surveillance of texts or emails in the workplace. Because of documented racial biases in policing, such surveillance puts students of color at the greatest risk. We should have these rights in our contract.

Initially proposed language continued an existing remission of nonresident supplemental tuition, or NRST, fee waivers. For international students whose fees are only partially covered by their departments, the NRST waiver spared them an additional $408 per year.

What was in these proposals — some of which were still in discussion in the final days of the contract — that the ultimate offer lacked? Teeth. Language carefully crafted by members from all over the system would have been defensible contract language.

Instead, what we got is language that largely restates the university’s existing commitments and rules, repeating the status quo rather than instating additional protections. The immigration language protecting immigrant students from ICE? Relies on the definition of a valid warrant as defined by the UC regents, who could potentially alter their definition at any time to include warrants that don’t come from a judge. Task force intended to investigate solutions and alternatives to police brutality? Scrapped by bargaining team leaders in the final hours in favor of a single labor management meeting only charged with discussing whether or not police brutality is even an issue — something our members identified as a major problem in their very first survey responses.

And NRST? In even the most generous analysis, international students relying on those partial fee remissions of $408 now essentially take a $108 per year real wage cut. So much for the storied 3 percent increase.

A robust escalation campaign and strike threat could have won these protections — as other labor unions across the UC system and the country know. UC service workers union AFSCME Local 3299 has recently rejected management’s latest offer, stating publicly that it’s less than their workers deserve. Much of what management is offering them looks familiar: a 2 percent wage increase and none of the sanctuary and anti-police brutality protections that they, too, are calling for. In taking this contract, UAW 2865 is sending a message to AFSCME Local 3299 that we think this is good enough. In this we have deeply failed our sister union, as well — a union composed of majority Black and brown workers. The fight for these protections was about our members, but it is about their members too.

When, going forward, you hear rhetoric from UAW leaders on union power, union solidarity, being stronger together — as someone who fought for a year for this contract, I want you to know that this contract deal isn’t what union solidarity looks like at all.

Hannah Kagan-Moore is a doctoral candidate at UC Santa Barbara and a former member of UWA 2865’s bargaining team.