Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Grad Student Strike at Santa Cruz - Part 11

Various developments have occurred regarding the UC-Santa Cruz grad student strike. First, the interim vice chancellor offered enhanced housing allowances. We have reproduced that message below. Second, the union indicated that while the enhancement is nice, UC still needs to negotiate with it. That response is below. Third, the University of California Graduate and Professional Council accepted UC President Napolitano's offer to come and have a talk, but says it won't negotiate. See the article reproduced below for that story.

Basically, UC is  on the edge of at least two unfair labor practices here. Making unilateral offers of improved benefits without negotiating with the union - which under law is the exclusive bargaining representative of the grad student employees - may well be an unfair labor practice. Under state law, any change in wages, benefits, and working conditions is subject to bargaining with the union, even if it is an enhancement. UC, the employer, can only make a unilateral change after bargaining to an impasse. And, depending on the current contract's precise wording, it may be constrained from changing benefits in any case. (Note that the contract is in effect at present.) Negotiating with an entity other than the union is also an unfair labor practice. Of course, the Council says it won't negotiate. But the discussion may or may not be a negotiation, depending on what is discussed, not what the discussion is called.

As we noted, labor law in this area is largely a don't ask/don't tell system. If the union doesn't file an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), nothing happens. If it does file a charge, that step would set in motion an investigation, possibly a complaint by PERB, and, if there is a complaint, eventually a hearing and decision. So really, the ball is in the union's court at this point. Presumably, it will do what it thinks is in its advantage.

One has to wonder what kind of legal advice UC and UC-Santa Cruz is getting concerning this matter or whether the UC president and the interim vice chancellor are paying attention to the advice they are getting.

Clarification of programs offered to graduate students

To: UC Santa Cruz Graduate Students and Faculty
From: Interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer

February 24, 2020

Last week, acting Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Quentin Williams and I met with graduate students, department chairs, and faculty regarding the grading and teaching strike. We came away with a strong sense of our shared commitment to supporting our graduate students. We also heard genuine confusion about the quality and scope of these programs. In an effort to find a way forward together as a community, I would like to clarify the programs and describe new details that resulted from our conversations.

We heard concerns that making the $2,500 housing supplement “needs-based” would disqualify many from eligibility, particularly international students. To address this concern, we will remove the “needs-based” condition, to allow full-time, in-residence doctoral students within their first five years, and Master of Fine Arts students in their first two years, to receive the supplement. We also heard concerns that the cost of the housing supplement would be borne by departments. That is not the case. The housing supplement will be centrally funded. In addition, we commit to regular reviews of program funding levels.

We also heard many concerns from students and faculty about the letters of warning remaining in our graduate students’ employment files as they move forward. They are concerned that the letter may impact future employment on campus and in their post-graduation careers. To address this concern, we are committed to the following:

For students who immediately resume all of their TA/GSI appointment obligations, including teaching and holding regularly scheduled sections and office hours, and for whom we have verified submission of fall, winter and spring grades, we will rescind their letter of warning at the end of this academic year.

Additionally doctoral and MFA students who resume their TA/GSI appointment obligations will receive the $2,500 housing supplement retroactive to Sept. 1, 2019, for the 2019-20 academic year. Doctoral and MFA students supported through GSR/Fellowship appointments will be included in the retroactive receipt of the housing supplement available at the end of the academic year.

I want to take this opportunity to clarify that fall-grade submission, including the removal of the temporary P grade, will be verified on Thursday, Feb. 27. This provides instructors of record and course-sponsoring units the time needed to submit final course grades once they have full grading information from fall TAs.

I am grateful for the honest conversations I have had with members of our community over the past weeks. My hope is that this message provides clarification and assurance of next steps. The opportunities described here are intended to help bring our campus community back to its teaching, learning, and research mission.


The union's response is below:

From the Bruin:
UCGPC will meet with Napolitano, but won’t be negotiating contracts
Julia Shapero, 2-23-20

The University of California Graduate and Professional Council has agreed to meet with UC President Janet Napolitano but will not negotiate contracts in response to strikes at UC Santa Cruz.

Graduate students at UCSC went on strike starting Feb. 10, refusing to teach, grade or hold office hours, in an effort to obtain cost-of-living adjustments. Police arrested at least 17 protesters by the third day of the strike.

Many graduate students across the UC have expressed frustration because living expenses near their campuses have increased disproportionately to their stipends.

The UCGPC advocates for undergraduate, graduate and professional students within the UC. Representatives from 10 UC graduate students associations voted to create the council in 2017. However, UCSC does not currently have a council board member.

Graduate students at UCLA rallied in support of the strikes at UCSC by calling in sick Wednesday. Many students said the issue affected them as well, given that Los Angeles is particularly expensive to live in. Westwood is the most expensive zip code in California and the fourth most expensive zip code in the nation, according to a report from RENTCafé.

Napolitano said in a statement Friday that she invited leaders of the UCGPC to meet and discuss issues that affect graduate students, such as cost of living and housing.

“I look forward to listening to perspectives from the UCGPC, working to find solutions and moving forward toward the shared aims of ensuring the continued well-being and success of our graduate students systemwide,” she said in the statement.

The council has agreed to meet with the UC Office of the President to discuss possible opportunities for advocacy but will not negotiate a COLA or a union contract, according to a statement from the UCGPC.

“We are not and cannot be the organization that negotiates the compensation of graduate and professional students,” the statement read.

However, the UCGPC said it is proud to continue working with United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents graduate workers and academic workers at the UC and will continue to advocate for policies that reduce the financial burden on students.

UAW Local 2865 said that while the union regularly meets with the UCGPC, the UAW is the only organization that can legally bargain with the UC.

“UC administrators are fully aware that only the union can bargain a legally-binding contract that will make progress for student-workers and hold the University accountable,” the statement read. “The time has come for UC to meet us at the bargaining table so that we can work to resolve the issues that have left so many student-workers economically insecure.”

UAW formally asked the UC to bargain with academic workers over COLA on Jan. 15, which the UC refused. Many workers pay over 60% of their income on rent, according to the statement.

Zak Fisher, president of the UCLA Graduate Students Association and a law student at UCLA, said he thinks Napolitano’s offer is insulting.

“I think she wants to give legitimacy to the idea that she is somehow actually listening to those students,” Fisher said.

Fisher added he does not think the UCGPC represents all graduate students, particularly since UCSC is not a member, as it never ratified any document in order to be represented by the council.

“I just think it’s really, really important to note that there is no document that has been ratified by every school to say that UCGPC is the quote-unquote official representatives of graduate students,” Fisher said.

He added he thinks the union, UAW Local 2865, should be included in any conversation between the UC and workers.

“(By reaching out to the UCGPC instead), this puts us on a path towards union busting for the UAW (Local) 2865,” he said. “That’s an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.”


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