Pact Settles Threatened UC Strike

Friday December 05, 2003

The University of California reached a tentative labor contract with its student instructors Tuesday, two days before a scheduled system-wide strike threatened to leave some students without last-minute instruction or final grades. 

Though neither side would discuss the deal, an internal union e-mail reported that the contract ensured the union’s right to stage sympathy strikes and called for a 1.5 percent retroactive raise for those employed during the fall semester. 

Members of United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents roughly 13,000 mostly graduate student instructors, graders and tutors across the system and about 2,200 at UC Berkeley, are winding up their vote on the contract today (Friday). Union negotiators enthusiastically recommended approval. 

“[The contract] makes significant improvements in the rights, wages, and benefits of Academic Student Employees (ASEs) at UC,” union leaders wrote in the e-mail. 

Both sides faced pressure to avert the potentially devastating strike. 

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock had circulated a memo signed by 33 legislative Democrats calling on UC to drop the sympathy strike provision. 

Union representatives at UC Berkeley have tried to mollify internal dissent, especially among science students, some of whom circulated e-mails to colleagues critical of union leadership and voicing skepticism about the wisdom of staging a strike during finals week. 

Although the union retained its right to hold sympathy strikes, it failed to achieve its other chief aim—an independent arbitrator to settle workload disputes. The contract instead calls for a clearer description of job duties to preclude future disputes. 

In addition to the 1.5 percent raise effective in January, the contract ties future 1.5 percent pay hikes to senate faculty merit increases, which occur annually. 

ASEs expressed relief that they wouldn’t have to strike during the busiest time of the semester. “It’s one less thing to worry about,” said Shay Boutillier, who added she would have honored picket lines even though she questioned the timing of the proposed strike. 

Since ASEs often grade final exams and conduct review sessions, a strike risked leaving students less prepared for tests and forcing overburdened professors to relax grading standards. 

Tuesday’s tentative settlement ends eight months of negotiations on a new contract to replace the pact that expired Oct. 1.