Student Workers Protest for Quality of Life and Education

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As the crowd chanted “UC turn the page, I demand a higher wage,” a group of about 50 protestors hoisted up signs with several indications of their demands for improving the quality of life for teaching assistants and other student workers.

Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) local 2865 branch of the Academic Student-Workers Union rallied at Quarry Plaza on Oct. 22 to express their need for a fair contract. This union represents more than 12,000 Academic Student Employees (ASE), including teaching assistants (TAs), readers and tutors.

“We have a broad range of demands, like smaller class sizes and competitive wages. We also have access demands, like gender neutral bathrooms and rights for undocumented workers,” said UAW member, TA and rally organizer Brian Malone.

“We are interested in things that improve the quality of teaching and our working conditions,” Malone said. “Our working conditions are the learning conditions for students.”

Aside from higher wages, the student workers also protested against the difficulties workers with families face.

Alicia Romero, who works as a TA to support her two children, shared her story of struggling to make ends meet under the current contract.

“It has been hard being a graduate student parent here, making what we make, Romero said. “I have to bring my kids with me sometimes to teach because I can’t afford childcare. I can barely stretch my dollars to provide for me and my two kids, let alone get health care for them, good clothes and a good place to live.”

Under the current contract, the monthly salary for a TA is about $1,700 a month for nine months out of the year. TAs who are parents also receive an additional $600 per quarter for childcare reimbursement. The TAs’ in-state tuition is also waived aside from campus fees which are estimated at $1,000 a year, Malone said.

Eligible ASEs can also be covered by the Graduate Student Health Insurance Program.

After sharing their stories, the group of protesters marched to the humanities building, where the UAW bargaining team met with representatives from the UC Office of the President (UCOP) to discuss the terms of their new contract.

The UCOP representatives opened the doors to give the protesters a chance to air their grievances, and protesters crowded in to occupy all available space within the room. They began to tell personal histories of their struggles under their low wages and large class sizes to the UCOP representatives. The day concluded with a new proposal offered by the UC and later rejected by UAW.

“It’s a painful experience to hear a colleague tell an emotional story about his or her struggles with poverty or discrimination or large class sizes and then hear the UC management say there’s nothing they can do. It’s a painful experience and it makes us angry, but that anger will help us fight harder,” Malone said.

The UC offered a 4.5 percent increase in salary under the new contract, said UCOP spokesperson Dianne Klein. Although, there are various barriers stopping the UC and the UAW from coming to an agreement in their contracts.

“The union has not given us a number for a percentage in terms of wages,” Klein said. “What the UC is trying to do is to get the students to come up with a concrete number for a wage increase. We cannot negotiate without that counter offer. Another obstacle in these particular negotiations is that students are concentrating on issues that have nothing to do with the contract.”

According to the UAW, the UCOP representatives and the UAW’s bargaining team will meet again in upcoming weeks to further discuss the terms of their contract. The UAW is also holding a state-wide strike authorization vote during the first week of November.