Striking for sympathy

    With over 200,000 students facing the prospect of canceled classes, ungraded papers and transcripts stained with incompletes, it¹s becoming increasingly clear where the UC Board of Regents¹ priorities lie.

    Chris Taylor
    Guardian

    And that is definitely not with the students.

    The planned United Auto Workers strike for the first week of December would completely immobilize over 10,000 UC Academic Student Employees in a bid for the right to sympathy strikes.

    Depending on your perspective, the timing of the strike either couldn¹t be better, or couldn¹t be worse. That is to say, you can bet the UC administration will feel it. But that¹s nothing compared to how the strike could impact the students.

    ASEs ‹ which include TAs and tutors ‹ are absolutely essential to the UC system. In undergraduate courses, it¹s not uncommon for students to have virtually no interaction with their professors. Foreign language courses, for example, are taught entirely by TAs, as are many individual college requirements such as Muir 40, not to mention discussion sections and labs.

    So, with finals beginning in exactly one week, students are now facing the prospect of not having class meetings again before the exams hit. (That is, of course, if the finals aren¹t canceled due to a lack of TAs to grade and facilitate them.)

    A Nov. 25 press release from the UC Office of the President¹s Web site stated, “”The university very much regrets the union¹s choice to ask our employees to consider participating in another illegal pre-impasse strike, especially one at this time of year when a strike would seriously disadvantage hard-working UC students who are in the midst of exams.””

    Severely disadvantage? A disadvantage is missing a day or two of class. Losing a textbook in Geisel, perhaps ‹ but nothing for which you¹d pay, say, $5,247 per year, which is how much each UC student pays in mandatory fees.

    We¹re talking more than a disadvantage here: In exchange for the $5,247 students and their parents shell out yearly, classes right before finals ‹ arguably the most crucial ones of the quarter ‹ will be canceled or babysat by substitutes unfamiliar with the course.

    The timing, of course, was possibly the most strategic move the UAW could have made. For better or for worse, this one will leave a mark. Already, the UC Regents are turning the blame solely on the striking workers.

    The UCOP statement lists what the Regents currently provide for ASEs (and makes it clear they consider more than fair compensation): a little under $20 an hour, health insurance, waived educational fees and, best of all, “”World-class learning: A chance to work with faculty at the world¹s premier public research university.””

    But it leaves, apparently, something to be desired. Granted, this time the UAW¹s motivation for a strike (the right to stage future sympathy strikes) isn¹t perhaps one of those basic human rights causes. Nevertheless, rather than issuing press statements to make the ASEs sound like whining, ungrateful brats, the Regents should be bending over backwards to start negotiations, or at least give students more assurance than a consolation as vague as “”UC campuses have contingency plans in place to deal with strikes and to help ensure that instructional activities, as well as general university operations, will continue with as little disruption as possible””. For the total of about $1 billion that 200,000 students pay each year, there¹s a definite responsibility on the part of the Regents to deliver a whole lot more than a last-ditch “”contingency plan”” to salvage the education for which students are paying.

    In an ideal world ‹ or even in a remotely sane one ‹ the students would be the focus of every school. In reality, the University of California¹s ASEs are every bit as vital to students¹ learning as the professors, or the chancellors, or the Regents. Maybe the UAW¹s strike is selfish, but you don¹t reward the over 10,000 ASEs who keep your students paying university bills by blaming them for an educational crisis. Besides, as protests go, it can get a whole lot worse than a peaceful strike.

    Give the ASEs the right to sympathy strikes, and then treat them well enough that they don¹t have to strike again in the future. Otherwise, things could get a whole lot nastier for UC administration. The University of California could replace every TA on campus for finals week, but if students still aren¹t getting anywhere near their money¹s worth, striking ASEs will be the least of the university¹s worries. Imagine 200,000 UC students withholding $5,247 each from the Regents. Whatever happened to “”the customer is always right?””

    With finals fast approaching, it is the Regents¹ responsibility to arrange the fastest negotiation known to man. True, the UAW¹s strike is technically illegal. But pawning away the fall quarter at the expense of 200,000 students ‹ that¹s just wrong.

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