Despite teaching assistants’ (TAs) smaller demands being met by the UC, primary concerns regarding smaller class sizes, protection and rights for undocumented graduate students and wage increases remain in negotiation. Requests settled by the UC include gender-neutral bathrooms and lactation stations for mothers working on campus, but negotiations for other stipulations between United Auto Workers (UAW) 2856 — the union representing over 13,000 student-workers across the UC — and the UC continue to take place.
UAW members have been without a contract since October. With negotiations ongoing since July, the UAW remains adamant to create a fair contract for TAs. After protesting the UC’s intimidation and unfair labor practices through a two-day strike on April 2 and 3, members of the UAW met twice last week to discuss their demands for what would make a fair contract.
“The university introduced a very minor proposal, and basically wasted our time,” said UC Santa Cruz graduate TA and UAW member on the bargaining committee for UCSC Josh Brahinsky said. “Up to the present, they have not been serious about issues we named as priorities, and that includes class size, undocumented students and wages.”
Brahinsky said the gender-neutral bathrooms and lactation stations are important, but UCSC also made promises to introduce a proposal the following day on the issue of undocumented students — and it was not upheld. Sara Smith, a union member and graduate student studying labor and queer history, agrees there is more progress to be made, but the negotiations so far should be considered a victory nonetheless.
“It’s really exciting that we have had significant progress with the negotiations, but there’s definitely more we can win,” Smith said.
Smith was on a bargaining team for the union several years ago, and currently works as an active member for the union and said prioritizing the needs of people who are underrepresented is crucial for unions.
“I’ve never heard of a labor contract that includes all gender bathrooms as a basic right,” Smith said. “It’s unprecedented at UCSC. It’s a basic workplace right, it’s a basic matter of safety and it’s about feeling like you are welcome at UCSC and other UC campuses.”
Literature graduate TA Jeb Purucker said UCSC has been holding out on agreeing to the smaller demands, and is even more reluctant when it comes to the bigger issues. He said the union wants to settle with the university but are not interested in settling before addressing major issues.
“It has been a difficult task to meet with the university to bargain,” Purucker said. “This will go on until we have a contract that we are happy with, so the university is going to have to compensate and move on class sizes. Until we get the things that are important to us, negotiations will continue.”
The UAW filed another unfair labor practice charge April 15 over the UC’s intimidation of striking workers and their allies. The charge was filed partially in response to the treatment of the 22 students who were arrested at the strike.
“We were striking over the fact that the university has been taking an increasingly intimidating stance toward labor in general,” Purucker said. “The university’s response to the strike was to call in riot cops from Berkeley — a decision clearly made days before the strike.”
Shelley Meron, a media specialist at the University of California’s Office of the President, expressed that the UC is willing to work with the UAW to settle issues and is eager to make further progress.
“We are certainly open to continuing to discuss the union’s concerns. The bottom line is we all share the same desire to maintain the academic quality at the UC,” Meron said. “But in general, these complaints are filed with the Public Employment Relations Board, and that is the way to get this resolved, not at the picket line, and not with a strike.”
Meron said while the long-standing negotiations between the UC and the UAW have been an ongoing process, the two sides will meet again on April 28.
“We are committed to working with them to reach an agreement, and we hope that happens very soon, but I don’t think anyone can predict how long this will take,” Meron said. “We’re very happy to have made progress, but obviously there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before we have a contract completely done and agreed on.”
The union members were previously putting effort into getting executive vice chancellor (EVC) Allison Galloway to recommend that the charges against the 22 students be dropped, but Brahinsky said the administration made it clear that they have no intention to do so. In fact, EVC Galloway’s administration summoned all of the arrestees on student conduct charges, in addition to the criminal charges the students are already facing. Purucker described this as UCSC trying to “double-dip” on punishment.
“At our last strike I was the first person arrested,” Brahinsky said. “I was legally protesting and I was tackled to the ground. The kind of behavior aiming to shut down participation in the union is hostile. I really don’t know what is going to happen with the negotiation. The university is adding to the intensity of the hostility and not actually trying to solve problems.”
Despite the issues involved in the negotiations, members of the UAW hope to agree on a contract that is fair for everyone.
“The ball is in the university’s court,” Purucker said. “We’ve told them what would be a fair agreement for us. Now it is up to them to move toward that. They don’t have to come all the way, but we need them to have some kind of movement.”