It’s Not a Risk When There’s Nowhere to Fall

Students are drowning in tuition increases. Faculty are swamped in furloughs. Our workers are, for the first time in two decades, giving up chunks of their paychecks to cover their pension funds. Whether it’s down to a negligent legislature, careless investments or the general fallout from a national recession, the UC Office of the President does seem to be screwing a lot of people over lately — and for the past year and a half, our mantra has been “fight, fight, fight.” Now our system administrators are sitting at the table with a group of people that might actually be able to bend Yudof to their will, and it’s only fair that we extend the same rallying cry to their stunt — especially since they can only go up from here.

On Nov. 17, after five months of negotiations, the United Auto Workers Local 2865 — the group that represents the UC system’s graduate student instructors — finalized the terms of a tentative three-year contract. Voting on whether to accept the contract began Monday, ends tomorrow and, if approved, the terms
will go into effect next quarter.

In its current state, the contract increases salaries by 2 percent, with potential for future pay raises if the state restores UC funding to 2007 levels — an increase that, on paper, is more than anyone else has gotten from the UCOP lately. It also raises the childhood reimbursement maximum — the amount of money parents get to finance putting their kids in daycare — from $900 to $2,400 annually, including the summer terms.

To more than 900 graduate student instructors who signed a petition encouraging their 12,000 fellow TAs to vote no on the contract, it’s just not enough. Union members like UC Santa Cruz graduate student Brian
Malone criticized union leadership for ineffective bargaining, and argued that, especially since requested provisions such as smaller class sizes and earlier job notifications were not met, union members shouldn’t settle for three years of subpar conditions when they could have had more.

Graduate student instructors are an integral aspect of higher education, providing extra help for students and oftentimes taking the role of professors in the classroom. They are crucial to the quality of our schools — when those graduate instructors are overworked and underpaid, it hurts the entire institution. Though the university doesn’t have the resources to hand over a blank check — and shouldn’t, even if it did — it doesn’t hurt to ask for the bare minimum.

But this pay raise doesn’t even cover the 3-percent inflation rate that increased the cost of living this year. And, though the University of California claims to be the world’s best public school system, UC student workers are still paid $1,000 less per month than instructors at other public institutions. The childcare maximum is an improvement, but most instructors estimate the monthly cost of daycare to be closer to $1000.

And the potential for a raise is unlikely since state funding would need to be restored by roughly $270 million to the 2007-08 level. While the latest state budget did restore $199 million that was cut in 2009-10, Yudof’s annual student fee increases and the state’s lack of commitment to higher
education funding means that this clause is unlikely to come into play.

Refusing to ratify the contract doesn’t mean that all the discontents’ demands will be conceded to, or even that they should be. But compared to settling for a binding three-year commitment that does little to improve their standard of living, there’s not much for the union to lose.

Under the California Public Employee Relations Act, employers must propose their final offer, then petition to declare impasse after the union rejects this offer. This means that if there is later negotiation — like the one advocated by Malone — an employer cannot produce something worse than the original “best and final” offer.

Of course, everyone is taking hits right now. Undergraduate tuition just rose again, departments are downsizing and class sizes are growing larger.

We’re in a budget crunch, but it still needs to put its money where its values
are: the professors and students that constitute the core of the universities.
Instead, executives spent $2 million last year on bottled water alone — $2
million that could go toward bridging that $1,000 monthly gap in pay, or
for increasing childcare reimbursements (which would cost an estimated $500,00). The union’s demand of a 4-percent increase would cost $6 million
a year — a hefty sum, to be sure, but UCOP gave out $11 million in executive bonuses last year.

Students systemwide have been against fee increases and eager to lobby the Board of Regents and the state for more funding, more money and better conditions. This attitude should extend to all students, not just undergraduates.

While we don’t have the resources to meet all of the union’s demands — meaning the union might have to cross the new pony off their wishlist — hard times are no excuse to stop fighting for our model of a perfect university.

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