Academic workers union rallies to demand increased affordable housing

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Members of the United Automobile Workers, or UAW, Local 2865 union rallied in front of California Hall on Feb. 12, demanding action be taken to address the costs of unaffordable housing on academic workers.

Union members and coalition partners delivered a letter to Chancellor Carol Christ during the rally detailing the effects of increasing housing prices on Academic Student Employees, or ASEs, and formally asking that bargaining be opened to address costs of living. Gerard Ramm, UAW Local 2865 Berkeley Unit chair, said he is hopeful campus administrators will respond to the union’s requests to alleviate rent-burden.

“It’s everywhere in conversations we have with workers on campus,” Ramm said. “I live in an apartment in Berkeley where rent is massively high — that’s a feeling shared by everyone.”

The rally, which attracted about 150 union and community members, comes after a meeting between UAW Local 2865 leaders and UC administrators Feb. 5, during which union members presented a framework that delineates the impact of rent-burden on ASEs and offers solutions to that burden, according to Ramm.

UC Office of the President spokesperson Andrew Gordon said in an email that to “meet the challenge of affordable housing,” the UC system planned to add 14,000 beds across campuses by fall, which it expects to exceed with 15,000 beds. He added that the UC system does not plan to reopen the contract agreement reached with UAW Local 2865 in August 2018 for negotiations.

“UC appreciates the information provided by the UAW and the ongoing dialogue regarding affordable housing,” Gordon said in the email.

In their framework, UAW Local 2865 estimated that graduate student instructors and teaching assistants spent 38% to 60% of their pre-tax income on housing in 2019, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies as rent-burdened.

The framework also notes that increasing housing costs may affect recruitment and retention of graduate students, which UC Berkeley Capital Strategies spokesperson Kyle Gibson echoed in a statement. Gibson said in an email that campus housing proposals — including the Upper Hearst Development, Intersection Apartments and Oxford Tract Student Housing — are in the works to accommodate graduate student housing needs.

“For entering graduate students, the goal is to provide one year of housing availability which will require building approximately 2,750 new beds,” Gibson said in the email.

The proposed solutions to rent-burden offered by the union include providing a housing stipend to ASEs, eliminating rent-burden in current campus housing and building additional affordable campus housing.

According to the UAW framework, this stipend should be calculated on each campus to bring the typical 50% full-time employment ASEs out of rent-burden — for UC Berkeley, that number is $2,344. Ramm said this framework is “powerful” and would better accommodate academic workers’ needs.

“I really hope Chancellor Christ will take it to heart that workers want to bargain over these demands and that they’ll use whatever mechanism they have to meet that demand,” Ramm said.

Contact Amanda Bradford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.