The Berkeley Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA, General Assembly passed two votes Monday regarding a potential wildcat strike in support of a COLA for all UC graduate students, according to Cal COLA organizer Jeremy Adams.
The votes passed called for a labor stoppage in addition to a grading strike beginning March 16. The vote for a wildcat strike — or a strike action taken by unionized workers without the union leadership’s authorization, support or approval — comes after UC Santa Cruz graduate student workers made headlines by conducting grading and full teaching wildcat strikes for living wage adjustments, according to the Graduate Assembly, or GA, website.
There are now 15 “strike-ready” campus departments, according to Adams. After in-person classes were suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Adams said Cal COLA has no plans of slowing down, but is changing its strategy by holding a digital picket line to avoid holding mass rallies.
According to an email to GA delegates from GA president Adam Orford, the GA’s positions on the ongoing COLA campaign are articulated in GA Resolution 2002B.
“The resolution is short and to the point: the GA demands that 1) the University not retaliate against students fighting to improve their living conditions in the ongoing COLA campaign, and 2) that the University meet with student workers and representatives to discuss the issues that they are raising,” Orford said in an email.
United Auto Workers, or UAW, Local 2865, which represents more than 19,000 UC tutors, readers, GSIs and TAs, differentiated the “COLA” strike from a union strike, as a two-thirds union membership vote has not taken place to authorize the strike, according to UAW Local 2865 President Kavitha Iyengar.
According to Iyengar, the departments that have declared themselves “strike-ready” represent less than 10% of the bargaining unit at UC Berkeley.
The union, which does not support the wildcat strike, will be holding an unfair labor practice strike authorization vote in April if campus should “fail to correct its unlawful terminations of wildcat strikers at UC Santa Cruz and continue to bypass the Union rather than negotiating with us,” according to Iyengar.
Iyengar added that UAW Local 2865 supports all campus workers and their struggle to achieve a COLA at the university.
The current UC system contract includes 100% reimbursement of tuition, annual wage increases of 3% over four years, remission of any health care premiums, a one-time payment of $100 for every eligible employee and an annual child care subsidy of $3,300, according to UC Office of the President, or UCOP, spokesperson Andrew Gordon.
Gordon said reopening the contract would defeat the purpose of a signed agreement and would not be fair to the employees at the university who adhere to collective bargaining agreements.
“The University has honored the contract negotiated in good faith, and we expect ASEs to do the same,” Gordon said in an email.
According to Gordon, UCOP is sympathetic to the challenges its employees face and is committed to free speech on its campuses, supporting the rights of the UC community to make its views known. According to Gordon, however, the university sees a “significant difference” between self-expression and the violation of a collective bargaining agreement and disregard of job responsibilities.
These actions, according to Gordon, unfairly harm undergraduate students.
“Without course grades and subsequently the ability to advance to the next level, undergraduate students may face a host of negative impacts, through no fault of their own, on top of unnecessary disruption to their education: potential loss of financial aid, delays in declaring a major, problems with graduation, and the ability to receive a transcript,” Gordon said in an email.
According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, UC Berkeley is committed to ensuring the graduate student community has its basic needs met by working on initiatives including pending affordable housing development plans.
Though campus is bound by the terms of the contract agreement between the UC system and UAW Local 2865, Gilmore said it will continue to look for opportunities to develop solutions in a manner that “respects the collective-bargaining process.”
According to Orford, the GA stands in solidarity with all graduate students and expects that they will be in the room when decisions that impact them are made.
“Our mission is not to speak on behalf of others, it is to raise up voices in and open doors for the graduate student community,” Orford said in an email. “Messages that suggest otherwise act to divide us.”