Academic Student Union Approves Labor Contract

Despite a “Vote No” campaign to protest inadequate pay and benefits, members of a union representing UC academic student employees approved a controversial labor agreement by a 62-percent majority on Dec. 3.

A record 4,000 graduate students — out of the 12,000 members in the United Auto Workers Local 2865 who work as teaching assistants, readers and tutors — from the 10-campus UC system voted.

At UCSD, 633 members voted to ratify the contract while 31 members did not. About 41 percent of the total UCSD members voted.

According to the union activist blog Labor Notes, this is the first time in the union’s history that any vote has been so contested.

“I think it’s overall great for a union to have such high levels of participation [in] this highly democratic process,” UAW recording secretary David Selby said. “It’s that vote that makes the union very strong and healthy.”

The three-year labor contract — which took almost six months of negotiations to reach since bargaining began in June — will increase pay by a minimum of 2 percent annually, with additional 2-percent increases if the state budget recovers.

Opponents of the agreement complained that the union bargaining committee could have pushed for a higher wage increase and larger childcare reimbursements.

“It’s good to have a contract — it’s always a plus,” UAW member and UCSD Communications graduate student John Armenta said. “There are workers on campus that work without a contract. I just wished we really put our feet down and demanded a better contract.”

UCOP spokespersons were unavailable for comment on the approved contract. The UC system’s chief negotiator for the contract, Peter Chester said in a November statement that the contract balanced the UC system’s fiscal crisis and union workers’ needs.

“We are very pleased to have reached what we believe is a fair agreement, and one that recognizes both the contributions our student employees make to UC’s teaching mission and the budgetary challenges we face,” Chester said.

In addition, the contract gives UAW members will receive increased health care coverage, a near-threefold increase in subsidies for child care (from $900 to $2,400 per year) and a partial remission to pay for costs of non-resident tuition.

The agreement also includes earlier job assignment notifications and increased role in negotiating health care benefits. Armenta said the child care subsidies provided do not reflect the real cost of child care.

“Raising a child in California is not cheap and the child care subsidy doesn’t cover it,” Armenta said.

In spite of the “Vote No” campaign, Selby  said the ratification was expected.

“I did only because we had vast majority of the people on the bargaining team who had voted on the contract,” Selby said. “With the gains we made and having no losses, I wasn’t surprised it was ratified because membership just understood that it’s a great contract.”

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