Student workers union gets less than it bargained for from UC

The University of California Student Workers Union has reached a contract agreement with the UC system, but the union is not calling it a victory.

Although the new contract features a 3% annual wage increase, an expanded child-care subsidy, and a $300 per year waiver of campus fees, 7 of the 16 members of the union's bargaining team recommended voting against it.

The University of California Student Workers Union has reached a contract agreement with the UC system, but the union is not calling it a victory.

In a statement issued Monday, The University of California system announced that it reached a four-year contract agreement with the UC Student-Workers Union (UCSWU) that includes an annual wage increase of three percent, a one-time payment of $100 for every eligible employee, a child care subsidy totaling $3,300 per year, a $300 per year waiver of campus fees, and more.

Interestingly, the new contract also now forces the university to notify the union when immigration officials make any inquiry into any member of the union. In addition, immigration-related appointments and hearings will now be excused absences for employees, and considered paid-leave.

[RELATED: TA asks students to show up at unionization sit-in for class]

As previously reported by Campus Reform, students from the UCSWU recently held a sit-in at the office of Fiona Doyle, the vice provost for Graduate Studies and dean of the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley, to protest the low wages that the student workers receive.

While it appears that the union did, in fact, negotiate many of its “Bargaining Goals” into the new contract, a letter encouraging members to vote “yes” on the new contract asserts that the pay increase of 3 percent per year was simply the best that union negotiators could get.

“The current contract on the table, which is management's ‘last, best, and final offer,’ represents historic social justice wins for our union and a stronger economic package than our last contract negotiation in 2014,” the letter states, noting that the contract secures “stronger-than-ever protections against sexual harassment and discrimination,” “improved access to safe lactation spaces,” and “an interactive process for developing accommodations for workers with disabilities.”

While the union acknowledged that the contract “does not have everything student-workers need and deserve,” it argues that union members do not have “the power necessary to win greater justice for ourselves” during this round of bargaining.

“It is unlikely that we can run a powerful enough strike to move the university,” the letter states, noting that “our numerical strength is lacking” because membership is currently below 50 percent.

Moreover, the UCSWU warned members that going on strike would cause members to forego this year’s three percent wage increase, as well as the $100 payment and fee waiver, potentially costing them “an entire year’s worth of wage increases.”

[RELATED: Student workers attempt to unionize, claim ‘labor exploitation’]

Seven members of the union’s 16-person Bargaining Team, however, also published a “Dissent Statement” that heavily criticized the contract, calling the wage increase of 3 percent “insulting” and “not even close” to the raise they wanted.

They also argued that the contract lacks guarantees that members will have access to “affordable housing and affordable childcare,” and “does not seriously address the issues of police brutality on our campuses or the unauthorized surveillance of our members.”

Moreover, the dissenting negotiators accuse the UC system of paying “little more than lip service” to immigration, complaining that student workers are not given “extensive paid leave for frequently long term immigration hearings,” and that UC did not agree to “fee remission for international students” or “stipends for student-workers who lose their work authorization.” 

Notably, the union failed to negotiate a full remission of tuition and fees, which was one of its major “Bargaining Goals,” and was only able to negotiate a $300 waiver of campus fees per year.

“Rather than accept this proposal, we should escalate this Fall and build towards a strike,” the opposition letter states. “Withholding our labor is the single best way that our union can win the important demands our members need: the UC works because we do.”

[RELATED: Union activists block traffic in Berkeley to ‘honor MLK’]

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case, which allows non-members to avoid paying union dues, the UCSWU did manage to incorporate language making a 30-minute union orientation mandatory for all new Academic Student Employees (ASEs), including those who do not intend to join the union.

“Attendance at one UAW Orientation shall be mandatory for first-time ASEs,” the contract states, adding that the time will count toward the workload hours for salaried employees and that hourly employees will be paid for the time at their normal rate.

A straw poll conducted by the union prior to the contract vote showed members split on whether or not to accept the contract proposed by the university, with 52 percent of members voting “yes,” and 47 percent voting “no.”

[RELATED: Liberal profs livid over ‘Janus’ ruling]

When contacted by Campus Reform for comment, a University of California spokeswoman referred to the statement posted online indicating that the UC system is happy with the results of the contract.

“Academic student employees play a crucial role in supporting faculty, lecturers, other staff, and fellow UC students,” Vice President of Human Resources Dwaine B. Duckett said in that statement. “This agreement underscores the university’s appreciation for their hard work and dedication.”

Campus Reform reached out to UCSWU, as well, but has not received a response.

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