Lecturers, university reach tentative contract agreement

photo of a protest
Maria Young/Senior Staff
After years of bargaining and organizing, UC-AFT has agreed to a tentative contract with the University of California. This tentative contract includes increased salary and more employment stability, among other things.

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After more than two years of bargaining, striking and organizing, a tentative agreement between the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, a union representing university lecturers, and the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, was reached early Wednesday morning.

The five-year contract lists demands that lecturers have previously advocated for, including compensation increases, more employment stability and a fair assessment of workload, according to UCOP Executive Director of Labor Relations Letitia Silas.

“This is a huge win, not only for lecturers but for our students,” said Crystal Chang Cohen, campus continuing lecturer of global studies and political economy and co-chair of the Bay Area UC-AFT chapter. “We really believe that your success as students depends on us having a stable teaching workforce.”

Also included in the contract is a raised salary floor and improved compensation. Previously, a full-time starting lecturer salary at UC Berkeley was $57,000 per year, according to Chang Cohen. With the new contract, this will be increased by about 30% over the next five years and includes annual cost-of-living adjustments.

Chang Cohen added that many lecturers must drive to other college campuses to “cobble together” a living. She said this new contract would make it possible to live on just one full-time, campus position.

“When lecturers are really stressed out and have to spend a lot of time driving around to teach lots of classes in different places, they just don’t have as much time or energy to commit to any one student,” Chang Cohen said. “When lecturers are here longer, they invest in the institution, invest in the community and invest in the students.”

Instructional continuity will give lecturers the opportunity to stay on campus longer, allowing them to foster stronger relationships with students. This will lead to better letters of recommendation, quality of education and mentoring opportunities, added campus electrical engineering and computer science lecturer Michael Ball.

Chang Cohen highlighted professional-advancement opportunities for lecturers and noted the rehiring rights, which means lecturers will be offered the same class the following year given positive reviews. She added that each successive contract will be accompanied by a salary increase.

Lecturers will also be eligible for four weeks of fully-paid leave, according to Silas.

“There is a place for teaching at this university, and this contract shows (that) the university wants to support us,” said campus anthropology lecturer Annie Danis at the rally. “The contract will keep this university as one of the best universities in the world.”

As a result of the tentative agreement, the strike planned for Wednesday and Thursday was canceled and celebratory rallies took place instead.

Many lecturers who spoke at the rally expressed joy and relief at the contract going through, emphasizing the positive effects of more job stability.

No one wanted to strike, Chang Cohen said. However, it was the pressure of the lecturers, students, graduate student instructors and senate faculty who were willing to strike that pushed the university to agree to the new contract, she added.

“It is so hard sometimes because you just feel like if you’re an individual, this is just the way the world is. We can’t change it,” Chang Cohen said. “But no, you can imagine different futures. It just takes a lot of work, you have to find like-minded people and you have to fight for it.”

Chang Cohen added that the agreement is likely the strongest contract for contingent faculty in the United States and said she hopes it will inspire lecturers at other universities.

According to ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert, the university viewed the strike as a disruption to undergraduate education. However, Weichert argued the real disruption is the high turnover rate of lecturers.

Weichert said at the rally lecturers teach about 40% of UC Berkeley classes. He noted that being unable to contact favorite lecturers the following semester because their contracts were terminated is “outrageous.”

“While I’m glad to see classes resume, I am far, far happier to know that we are resuming instruction with a tentative contract that would provide lecturers with job security and a livable wage,” Weichert said in an email. “This agreement shows the power that we have as members of the campus community—students, faculty, and staff—to demand a better University.”

The work done over the past two-and-a-half years has also inspired other lecturers to join unions, said campus gender and women’s studies continuing lecturer Barbara Barnes.

Barnes noted that UC-AFT has built power, brought in more university lecturers and shown them it is possible to improve their working conditions.

“This victory is owed to the hard work of organizing that our members have done for over two and a half years,” said UC-AFT President Mia McIver in a press release. “We built the power to win the contract we deserve.”

Union members must vote on the agreement before it goes into effect, with a ratification vote expected to occur later this week, according to a UC-AFT press release.

Contact Maria Young at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.