UC Santa Cruz lecturers held a strike at the base of campus in 2003 for a fair contract and increased job security through continuing appointments. Their demands were seen as radical and progressive at the time, but lecturers succeeded in obtaining a contract that set a nationwide precedent for continuing appointments.
Seventeen years later, over 100 UCSC lecturers, graduate students and supporters marched to Kerr Hall on Feb. 3 calling for a fair contract. For Roxi Power, a lecturer in the writing program, the march felt like déjà vu.
“I’m tired of this,” Power said. “I’ve been here for 21 years. I did this before, and I’m still talking about respect. Lecturers need to be respected.”
After more than nine months of stagnant negotiations with the UC Office of the President (UCOP), University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) representatives voted to let their contract with the UC expire on Jan. 31.
With the contract expiration, the UC and lecturers have entered a “period of status quo,” meaning all aspects of the expired contract will remain in effect. Lecturers will continue to hold class, receive merit and excellence reviews and receive their salaries.
Lecturers teach 42 percent of class hours at UCSC. As of 2018, the median income of lecturers across the UC system was $19,900 per year. A UCOP negotiator makes over $150,000 per year.
“The UC as an institution has a responsibility not just to be an engine of economic and social mobility for students, but it is also responsible for ensuring that it’s employing its workers in a way that people can stay in the middle class,” said UC-AFT President and UC Los Angeles lecturer Mia McIver.
UC-AFT approached their proposal with three core demands in addition to job security — fully paid work, consistent and fair workload standards and course loads that support effective teaching.
The UC presented a “take-it-or-leave-it” package proposal in which all articles had to be accepted by the union by Jan. 30, a day before the contract was set to expire. However, McIver said the package proposal was incomplete.
The UCOP proposals included eliminating all pre-continuing re-hire rights, reducing layoff notice for course cancellation from 30 to 14 days and reducing layoff notice for continuing appointees from one year to three months.
“Let’s say that I agree in 2019 to teach a seminar in 2021,” said Bruce Thompson, a lecturer in the history and literature departments. “But the enrollment for seminars fluctuates and the number can go from 22 to somewhere in the single digits. So let’s say for example, that I get nine [students] instead of 10, and UC declares that 10 is the bare minimum. So with 14 days notice I suffer the loss of a class and the loss of one-eighth of my income for the year.”
On Jan. 30, the day before the expiration of the UC-AFT contract, lecturers at several UC campuses received an email from Executive Director of Systemwide Labor Relations Peter Chester addressed “Dear Colleague.” The email briefly discussed UCOP proposals and did not address UC-AFT proposals.
“Negotiations began in April, and the UC-AFT has not presented UC with a single compensation proposal, nor proposals on other topics the union has stated an interest in bargaining over,” Chester said in the email. “By contrast, UC has presented the union with a comprehensive proposal designed to bring the negotiations to a timely resolution and recognize the importance of your role with fair and appropriate compensation, benefits, position responsibilities, professional development and performance evaluation.”
In addition to the proposals UC-AFT presented in the past nine months of negotiations, the union offered a counter proposal in which they would extend their current contract with the guarantee that bargaining would continue.
According to McIver, UCOP negotiators indicated that the completion of the package proposal was their top priority at this time, and were unavailable to answer the union’s questions regarding UCOP’s proposals.
“After more than nine months of negotiations, on the day before our contract expired, UC admin gave us an incomplete, take-it-or-leave-it, bundle of articles with little to no movement,” UC-AFT representatives said in statement. “We have a message for Peter Chester: Propaganda will not work on our members because we know that solidarity defeats precarity!”
Lecturers are optimistic that negotiations will continue between UC-AFT and UCOP. While they continue to fight for a contract, lecturers will still meet with students in office hours, write letters of recommendation and sponsor student groups and initiatives.
“I can tell you who is doing the real work for student success,” said UCSC writing program lecturer Roxi Power. “It’s the people on the front lines, it’s the lecturers. I’m meeting around the clock every week with my students, going over their sentences with them in their papers. [Students] are not abstractions to me, I spend my life with them.”