UC lecturers fear losing jobs, health care benefits amid COVID-19

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UC lecturers expressed concern over loss of health care amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, press conference Monday.

UC-AFT represents UC librarians and nonsenate faculty, including lecturers. June 1 is the rehire letter deadline outlined in many UC lecturer contracts; however, many departments have not released these letters yet because the UC system has not committed to using some of its “available funds,” putting many lecturers’ employment statuses in question, according to a UC-AFT press release.

UC Office of the President spokesperson Stett Holbrook said in an email that the UC system is willing to negotiate with UC-AFT regarding lecturer wages, hours and the terms and conditions of employment.

Several attending lecturers said at the event that they receive their health insurance from their employment with the UC system, and some added that they are facing difficult personal circumstances.

“We are starting to hear that lecturers are not going to hear their reappointment letters until mid-summer,” said UC Davis lecturer Katie Rodger at the event. “The precarity that creates stress and anxiety that expands to lecturers and their families is real and very deep.”

UC Santa Cruz lecturer Carine Rohmer said she has had a lot of panic attacks because she fears she will lose her job and face homelessness if she is not rehired.

Ashton Wesner, a lecturer at UC Berkeley, said she has a heart condition that cannot be cared for without the health insurance she receives from her employment in the UC system.

“Every day that goes by is another day that we remain uncertain about whether we can get health care,” said UC Berkeley lecturer Marianne Kaletzky at the event.

UCLA lecturer John Branstetter said he has been anxious for the past few years about receiving continuing status. He alleged that as he gains more experience as a lecturer, it becomes increasingly likely that he will be laid off.

According to Kaletzky, the UC system considers lecturing positions to be temporary employment, although many lecturers have remained at their positions for several years.

Multiple lecturers said continuity of their positions is important to their students, for whom they think consistent, stable teaching ought to be retained.

“The university putting lecturers in uncertain positions is causing major disruptions for students, too,” Kaletzky claimed at the meeting. “It’s created a tremendous amount of instability.”

UC-AFT said in a press release that it is asking the UC system to cut the salaries of all UC employees who make more than $250,000 per year. According to UC-AFT’s calculations, this “chop from the top” would be more economical and would allow lecturers to continue teaching.

The UC system has been engaged in negotiations with UC-AFT since April 2019.

“In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the University is in discussions collectively with union leaders about COVID-19’s operational and fiscal impacts,” Holbrook said in an email. “We believe successfully navigating the crisis will require genuine partnership and collaboration between UC and its represented workforce.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.