Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Grad Student Strike at Santa Cruz - Part 5

A letter from President Napolitano has been posted on the UC-Santa Cruz website concerning the strike of graduate students. It is reproduced below.

Below the letter, we provide some commentary and a union statement.

An Open Letter to Faculty, Staff and Students at UC Santa Cruz

February 14, 2020

Dear Faculty, Staff and Students:

The University of California respects its labor unions and its unionized workers. They provide valuable services throughout the University, from gardening and food service on our campuses to patient care in our hospitals to lecturers in our classrooms. The obligations between the University and its unions are negotiated and memorialized systemwide in collective bargaining agreements, which must be voted on and ratified by the union membership. With respect to the collective bargaining agreement between the University and Academic Student Employee -Teaching Assistants (TAs) and their union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), the TAs received the following benefits:

A waiver of tuition, plus a $300 campus fee remission
3% annual wage increases (in line with other University employees)
A child care subsidy of $3,300 per year (unique to TAs)
A one-time signing bonus
A complete remission of any health care premiums

In exchange for these guaranteed benefits, the University received a contractual promise that the TAs would not strike while the collective bargaining agreement was in effect through June 30, 2022.

Consequently, the wildcat strike by UC Santa Cruz TAs, where a number of TAs have withheld or deleted fall grades and are refusing to teach classes, is unauthorized and in direct violation of the existing collective bargaining agreement. The striking TAs have asked whether the University would either re-open the agreement or negotiate a separate side letter with them to provide a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) over and above the wage increase already in the agreement to account for the high cost of housing in Santa Cruz.

The University will not re-open the agreement or negotiate a separate side-letter. To accede to the demands of a group of employees engaged in an unauthorized wildcat strike would undercut the very foundation of an agreement negotiated in good faith by the UAW and ratified by thousands of members across the system.

We are sympathetic to the high cost of housing in Santa Cruz and the pressure this puts on TAs, but a wildcat strike is not the way to get relief. Chancellor Larive has already proposed two measures to help graduate students: a $2,500 need-based housing fellowship; and for doctoral students a 5-year, funding program at the minimum support level of a 50 percent teaching assistantship. We can work together to persuade our legislators in Sacramento to support the University’s request for more graduate student support. We could also work together to develop other legislative proposals to speed the construction of student housing.

However, holding undergraduate grades hostage and refusing to carry out contracted teaching responsibilities is the wrong way to go. Therefore, participation in the wildcat strike will have consequences, up to and including the termination of existing employment at the University.

It should not come to this. We urge the striking TAs to turn in their grades and return to the classroom. The TAs must honor their side of the bargain, just as the University must honor its commitments. The wildcat strike must come to an end.

Yours very truly,
Janet Napolitano


Editor's note: As we have explained in prior postings, both sides could voluntarily reopen negotiations. However, the union - if it overtly supported the strike - would place itself in legal jeopardy. Still, the union's website contains the item reproduced below that suggests tacit support (even if it didn't instigate the strike) or at least non-opposition. There is no sign that the union is in any official and public way urging a return to work. That approach by the union may not be good in the long run for UC-union relations, since it will suggest that deals made with the union can easily be breached. Moreover, with the current UC prez soon to retire, she is more of a free agent to take a hard stance than might otherwise be the case in this matter. 

However, the situation is what it is. Regent chair John Pérez has a labor union background and could be useful in behind-the-scenes contacts with the two sides. There could be imaginative compromises which officially don't reopen the contract (something UC opposes) and yet provides some kind of tangible win for the strikers. (One could imagine, for example, a union-management committee chaired by a neutral to investigate cost of living problems, etc., and come up with recommendations. That is just one possible option. If there is a will to bring this confrontation to a close, others can be found.)

RE: UCSC student code of conduct summons

January 29, 2020 By UAW 2865

Monday, January 27, 2019, UCSC graduate students withholding grades were notified that if they do not submit grades by Feb. 2, 2020, they will be subject to discipline under the student code of conduct. Yesterday, UAW President Kavitha Iyengar wrote the following letter to UCSC labor relations in response:

Dear Jennifer,

In the Chancellor’s letter to the UCSC community, sent yesterday, she states: “graduate students who do not submit grades by Feb. 2, 2020, will receive a written disciplinary warning in accordance with the UC/UAW contract. Students alleged to have deleted grades will receive a student conduct summons.

Please note the position of the UAW, which is that any such discipline would be unwarranted. Further, any discipline issued to an individual regarding grades by definition would be an allegation regarding their duties as an employee of the University, as non employees do not issue grades. Therefore, any such discipline would be covered by the UC/UAW 2865 contract and all rights to challenge such discipline will arise from that contract as well. Any reference to a student conduct summons in the context or employment is misplaced and an unlawful effort to subvert the contract and the Union’s and its’ members rights.

Kavitha Iyengar
President UAW 2865


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