TAs decide to go on strike

    With finals only a week away, numerous sections and discussions could be canceled during week 10 as teaching assistants go on strike for a second time this quarter, protesting alleged unfair labor practices on the part of the university.

    Jessica Horton
    Guardian file

    The strike may begin as early as Dec. 1 and could continue until the Dec. 14 if the teaching assistants’ negotiation requests are not met, according to the United Auto Workers, which represents over 11,000 teaching assistants throughout the University of California’s eight undergraduate campuses.

    According to union guidelines, participating teaching assistants would not be able to teach classes, hold office hours, send e-mail or grade any student work, including final exams.

    With finals week coming up, many students may be left without last-minute help or review sessions.

    Jennifer Downs

    Contingency plans are being set up at each campus to deal with the strike’s effects. At UCSD, while the strike has been discussed in meetings by administration officials and faculty, specific plans are being set up by individual departments and programs.

    “”It is up to the chair and the faculty in each department to see how to best approach the situation,”” said Tim Johnston, assistant dean of student affairs for graduate studies.

    A majority of teaching assistants on each campus are UAW members, according to the union.

    “”Some of the courses may not be disrupted by the strike,”” Johnston said. “”Others may require that they replace those people, or have faculty take over.””

    Johnston said that the temporary replacements would have to be “”qualified people”” affiliated with UCSD, which could be either graduate students or “”non-student”” employees chosen from a pool of former applicants. Another option would be to extend hours of teaching assistants not on strike.

    While the union has announced that the strike will take place between Dec. 1 and Dec. 5, no specific date has been announced for fear of campuses preemptively hiring temporary replacements.

    Days before Thanksgiving, as soon as UAW voted on the strike, teaching assistants started posting UAW membership cards on their office doors, discussing the reasons behind the strikes in their classrooms and writing the phone number to Acting Chancellor Marsha A. Chandler’s office on blackboards for students to call.

    UAW members went on a one-day strike on Oct. 3 to express their dissatisfact

    ion with the bargaining between the union and the university. UAW has accused the university of unfair labor practices, including bringing negotiators lacking necessary authority to the table.

    The only point of contention in the contract negotiation has been the union’s rights to go on “”sympathy strikes,”” strikes during work hours in support of other unions. The university wants the student instructor’s union to give up the right to “”sympathy strikes”” in their new contract.

    “”We had a strong majority action on Oct. 3, and we returned to work with the expectation of an improvement in the university’s conduct at the table,”” said Rajan Mehta, a member of the UAW bargaining team, in a Nov. 25 statement announcing the decision to strike. “”However, the university appears unwilling to bargain fairly.””

    In November, both parties entered voluntary pre-impasse talks.

    “”So long as they do not violate university policy, student instructors are free to join in any demonstrations or protests they choose, union-related or otherwise,”” UC spokesman Paul Schwartz said. “”And there is nothing in the university’s current bargaining proposals with the UAW that would prohibit academic student employees of joining the picket lines of other unions on their own personal time.””

    Beth Rayfield, who represents UAW in Southern California, felt that the university should not ask the TAs to give up sympathy strikes.

    “”You can’t earn labor peace by this kind of repression,”” Rayfield said. “”The length of the strike is now really up to the university. Our members are outraged. Thousands have signed up for picketing and are prepared to stay out there for the rest of the term.””

    University librarians recently gave up the right to sympathy strikes in a contract reached in November. This followed several other unions, including lecturers, that have given up sympathy strike language when the university asked.

    “”Solidarity is a great strength, and the thing to note here is that [the librarians] are one of the smaller unions,”” Mehta said. “”The university has a program to get this language into all contracts.””

    According to Rayfield, the UAW has now filed 72 unfair labor practice charges against the university, up from 64 in September.

    University officials have argued that filing these charges does not represent wrongdoing, and decisions on charges by the state’s independent Public Employment Relations Board can take months and might not necessarily come out in the union’s favor.

    “”Some unions use this as a tactic to attempt to vilify an employer, gain public sympathy and pressure an employer into agreeing to union demands,”” Schwartz said in a statement.

    Rayfield said filing the charges gives the union the legal right to strike. The strike is not expected to last into winter quarter, however, since teaching assistants are hired on a term-by-term basis.

    “”Strikes don’t serve anyone and differences can only be resolved at the bargaining table, not the street corner,”” Schwartz said. “”As other unions and the general public have witnessed repeatedly, strikes have no effect on the university’s bargaining positions, and they only serve to aggravate negotiations and delay an agreement.””

    Several unions, including the Coalition of University Employees, will honor UAW’s picket lines.

    The union also garnered support in the form of a letter sent to President Robert C. Dynes on Nov. 19, before the bargaining team voted to strike. The letter, signed by 30 California legislators, asked Dynes to leave the UAW’s contract language as is.

    “”I support unions, although I admit it’s bad timing because students need TAs during this time,”” said John Muir College sophomore Narissa Vania. “”In a lot of classes, TAs are who the students learn from.””

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