Update 3/2/2020: This article has been updated to include additional information from UAW Local 2865 member Kerby Lynch.
Fifty protesters gathered on Sproul Plaza at noon Feb. 28 and delivered demands to campus administration in Sproul Hall in support of a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, and reopened bargaining with UC administration.
United Auto Workers, or UAW, Local 2865 — the union that represents tutors, graduate student instructors, teaching assistants and readers in the UC system — organized the rally in response to a statement issued by UC President Janet Napolitano. Napolitano invited the UC Graduate Professional Council, or the UCGPC, to meet and discuss issues pertaining to cost of living, among other basic needs.
“We’re coming together on a demand that the university end its union-busting tactics and meet us at the bargaining table to bargain for COLA for all,” said Gerard Ramm, unit chair for UAW Local 2865 and a campus graduate student instructor.
Those in attendance at the event delivered a petition with 4,500 signatures demanding UC administration end rent-burdening to the Sproul Hall office of Lisa García Bedolla, who serves as the vice provost for graduate studies and the dean of the graduate division at UC Berkeley. The petition calls for direct negotiations between UAW Local 2865 and Napolitano’s office.
Ramm said the UC system should negotiate with the union directly and not through the UCGPC.
“Campus officials have received the letter and are committed to working toward increasing graduate student funding,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email. “While our students do have real and urgent needs, their financial situation is quite different from other UC campuses. We simply have more funding and fewer students living only on GSI salary.”
Campus graduate student Yevgeniy Melguy was present at the event to stand in solidarity with graduate student workers demanding a COLA. Melguy emphasized the expensive rent prices in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz.
“The amount of wage increase we got doesn’t help keep up with the cost of living once you factor in inflation,” Melguy said.
UC Office of the President spokesperson Andrew Gordon said reopening the contract, however, would be “unfair” to the other UC system unions and the 90,000 UC system employees they represent. He added that it would “defeat the purpose of a signed agreement.”
Gordon also said the UC system’s contract with UAW Local 2865 includes “fair pay and excellent benefits” and attends to graduate students’ needs, including tuition, child care and campus fee remission.
UAW Local 2865 member Kerby Lynch, a campus Ph.D. candidate and the External Affairs Vice President of the Graduate Assembly, said they intentionally did not attend Friday’s protest in order to reassess organizing strategies. Lynch will be attending the meeting with Napolitano and other students next week.
“I am craving a more deliberate strategy,” Lynch said.
The event ended at about 1:30 p.m. with protesters chanting “We’ll be back” outside of Sproul Hall.