Student Employee Union Awaits Votes for Contract

On Nov. 21, a group of union members, unsatisfied with the agreement terms, organized a campaign urging members to vote against the tentative labor contract reached on Nov. 17 after five months of negotiation.

“The bargaining committee did not work hard enough to secure a better deal,” UAW member and UCSD Communications graduate student John Armenta said. “They were given plenty of opportunities and the current agreement is insufficient.”

Members of the “Vote No” campaign argued that one major part of the new contracts — the proposed 2-percent annual salary increase with the possibility of increases in the next two academic years — does not match the projected three-percent inflation rate.

“We’re glad there’s a meager pay raise, but it’s under the inflation rate,” Armenta said. “On paper, it looks like a pay raise but it’s actually a cut… Inflation’s 3 percent and we only get a 2-percent raise, so that’s actually a 1-percent decrease in standard of living.”

In addition, the campaign asks for a full fee remission that reimburses employees for their student fees, instead of a partial one for non-resident tuition.

But others, including some union negotiators, said that the agreement would vastly increase worker benefits. Under the proposed contract, the total childcare reimbursement amount would increase from $900 to $2,400 per year.

It also includes increasing the union’s role in negotiating health care benefits, maintaining compensation for union bargaining team members and improving timeliness of job offer notifications.

“The economic package provided to academic student employees, particularly the 2-percent annual increases with a chance to receive more, is extremely favorable in light of the state’s fiscal crisis,” UCOP spokesperson Steve Montiel said.

A majority vote is required to pass the tentative agreement. Currently, 946 members have pledged to vote no on the contract on the campaign website, According to UAW Northern Vice President Daraka Larimore-Hall, votes will be counted in the union office at UCLA.

“It’s a democratic process and people have their right to campaign,” Larimore-Hall said. “We’ll see when the votes are coming.”

If the union approves the contract, the terms will take effect from the day of ratification until Sept. 30, 2013.

UC Santa Cruz UAW unit chair Brian Malone, one of the members who signed an open letter endorsing a “no” vote, said members have been receptive to the “Voting No” campaign.

“We’re having a really good response from our membership,” Malone said. “We have a good turnout. We think that a certainly large majority of people on our campus [at UCSC are] voting here.”

Malone said he believes that, due to the campaign’s efforts, there is a chance that the tentative agreement will not be ratified.

“[It’s] definitely a possibility at this point,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

But Malone expressed worry about the security of the voting process.

“One concern we’re having right now is actually around the security of this election,” Malone said. “We think the UAW leadership is making steps in the last few days to actually make the possibility of election fraud much more likely.”

According to Malone, the UAW election committee chair is refusing to share the tally of votes from each campus. Union members against approving the agreement are asking for those votes.

“We’re demanding those votes as a deterrent,” Malone said. “There needs to be a check [for] whether or not those people who voted actually voted. Otherwise, the way it’s being run right now — if we don’t have public access — they can just check off a million names. I’m not saying it’s happening, necessarily, but the election committee needs to actually make this a fair, transparent process.”

If the agreement is not approved, UAW and the UC negotiators will renegotiate their terms.

“What’s wrong with just going back to the table and trying to get something better?” Armenta said.

Montiel said renegotiations would not necessarily lead to more benefits.

“UC negotiators enhanced a previous offer, contingent on agreement by the UAW,” Montiel said. “If the contract is not ratified, it is true that negotiations will resume. But, if that happens, the university would consider all alternatives, including a return to the previous offer.”

Readers can contact Regina Ip at [email protected].

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