Lecturers have been working under an expired contract since January, but after 33 bargaining sessions with the UC Office of the President (UCOP), union representatives feel optimistic about steps toward job security and proposed salary increases.
“The proposal was the first one that had any substance in the direction that we’re looking, so it was definitely a hopeful moment,” said UCSC Lecturer Josh Brahinsky. “They actually made some small, but significant movement in our direction.”
The University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) and UCOP engaged in two negotiation sessions earlier this month, on Nov. 12 and Nov. 18. Negotiations centered around UCOP’s new contract plan for pre-continuing lecturers and a staggered salary plan proposing 2 percent raises each year between 2023 and 2025.
But even with movements toward increased job security and proposed salary increases, UC-AFT and UCOP have not reached an agreement.
“[The proposals] are a step in the right direction,” said UC-AFT President and UCLA Lecturer Mia McIver. “But it’s very far from addressing the real significant issues.”
Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” blared in the UC-AFT pre-negotiation Zoom room at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 12. Lecturers laughed and danced as they waited for what they called “The Great Unveiling” at 3 p.m. — the presentation of UCOP’s full contract package by UC negotiator Nadine Fisher.
The bargaining Zoom room, hosted by UCOP, hit a max of 300 participants, with another 117 lecturers and supporters sitting in the UC-AFT Zoom room, dubbed the “overflow room.” Brahinsky said the total number of UC-AFT supporters that signed in via Google Form was well over 500.
“The thing that struck me the most is that we had 170 people at bargaining the last time we tried to turn people out [this summer],” Brahinsky said. “We had over 500 this time. That suggests to me that our members are ready to fight for job security in a serious way.”
In the first round of negotiations on Nov. 12, Fisher introduced the 1-1-2-2 pre-continuing appointment plan offering increased job security for lecturers in their first six years of teaching.
The 1-1-2-2 model does not guarantee a lecturer will be appointed to a long-term position. Indicative of its name, the plan offers a one-year contract to newly hired lecturers, with the possibility of another one-year contract the next year, and two sequential two-year contracts after that. However, there is no guarantee that the contracts will be renewed after each teaching appointment.
Under the current expired UC-AFT contract, a lecturer could lose their job after teaching for one quarter. Although the 1-1-2-2 plan offers increased job security for many lecturers, it still doesn’t adequately address the needs of contingent faculty. McIver said the majority of lecturers teach at a UC for one year or less, and would never be eligible for a two-year appointment.
“It would certainly be better than what we have now, but how much better is the question,” said McIver. “Without a commitment from management to a clear, transparent, fair, and consistent assessment and reappointment process […] I don’t have any confidence that most lecturers will even get to the point where they’re eligible for those two-year appointments.”
While the continuing appointment plan received mixed reactions from the union, UCOP’s introduction of a five-year contract was met with backlash. When asked about the switch to a five-year contract, UCOP spokesperson Ryan King did not provide a specific response.
“The University of California’s goal is to reach a multi-year contract that recognizes our lecturers’ contributions to student education,” said UCOP Spokesperson Ryan King in an email. “We highly value the essential instructional role lecturers play in educating our students, as reflected in their excellent pay and benefits as well as job stability.”
McIver said that before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UC-AFT wanted a long-term contract, though in a spring conversation between members of the UC-AFT table team and UCOP negotiator Nadine Fisher, UCOP asked the union to compromise with a shorter term contract because of financial uncertainty within the University due to COVID-19.
Since UC-AFT previously agreed to these terms, UCOP’s five-year contract proposal came as a surprise to many members of the union at the Oct. 27 bargaining session.
“Throughout the spring and summer and early fall, the proposals that both parties were exchanging and the discussion at the table was about a short term contract,” said McIver. “So it was very surprising in the previous bargaining session before [Nov. 12] to hear Nadine indicate that they were interested in a long-term contract. And to some of our members it really does feel like a bait-and-switch, and it feels like they took our goodwill.”
McIver and Brahinsky said a five-year contract would only be on the table if it thoroughly meets the demands of the union.
“The fact that they’re thinking seriously about job security is a real step in the right direction,” said UCSC lecturer Josh Brahinsky. “[But] we’re nowhere close to an agreement. We said to them, that was a step. Nice job. Here’s the other steps you need to make.”
Although much of the Nov. 18 conversation revolved around the 1-1-2-2 plan and job security, UCOP negotiators also presented a new salary increase plan. Under UCOP’s “0-0-2-2-2” proposal, lecturer pay will not increase through the year 2022, but will increase 2 percent per year between 2023 and 2025.
“We hope that we can address joint concerns and resolve outstanding differences quickly to meet the needs of lecturers and the UC community that depends on them,” said UCOP spokesperson Ryan King in an email. “We think this most recent proposal is especially fair in light of the significant impacts employers everywhere face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
For McIver and many members of UC-AFT, a 2 percent increase is promising, but does not cover potential inflation increases throughout the three-year span. Although long-term inflation is difficult to accurately predict, the International Monetary Fund forecasts inflation in the U.S. will range between 2.1 and 2.8 percent every year between 2020 and 2025.
McIver said that other UC labor unions have gained greater wage increases in recent years, like AFSCME Local 3299, the union that represents UC service workers, patient care technical workers, and skilled craft workers. The union came to a contract agreement with UCOP that addressed a majority of their demands, including 3 percent annual wage increases for all employees through 2024.
“The UC had offered all of those bargaining units raises of three to three and a half percent for the same time period,” McIver said. So we’re definitely thinking this is not the best they can do.”
UC-AFT and UCOP have not yet come to an agreement, and will continue negotiations in mid-December.