After months of bargaining, UAW Local 2865 has finally signed a contract that will increase salaries, health care coverage and childcare for teaching assistants, tutors and readers in the UC system.
The UAW bargaining team reached a tentative agreement with the UC system in November 2010, which prompted a ‘Vote No’ campaign from members of UAW who felt the contract did not provide enough. However, 2,421 out of 3,878 union members ratified the contract – a 62 percent majority – during a vote that ended on Dec. 2.
“This agreement represents real progress in the current economic climate,” said Rachel Vandagriff, a graduate student instructor in the music department at UC Berkeley and head steward for UAW Local 2865. “Not only are there significant victories in this contract, but it lays the groundwork for us to fight for even greater gains in the future on issues that are critical to academic student employees.”
The contract will provide a minimum of a 2 percent increase in salary for the next three years and a promise of a higher increase if the California budget improves. Furthermore, the contract promises a tripling in childcare subsidies and improved health care.
The results of the ratification vote were highly varied among the different UC campuses. At UC Davis, 139 union members, or 58.9 percent, voted yes for the contract. UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz had the most students voting no for the ratification – 78.8 percent and 90.3 percent, respectively.
One of the ‘Vote No’ campaign’s main concerns was that the increase in wages would still not be enough to support present standards of living.
“I believe our current union leadership conceded to this agreement after disingenuous efforts at both organizing and bargaining. I think we can do better,” said Cheryl Deutsch,? a graduate student in the department of anthropology at ?UC Irvine, on the ‘For a Democratic University’ blog, in support of the ‘Vote No’ campaign.
The ‘Vote No’ campaign was looking to send UAW and UC back to the bargaining tables for a stronger contract that would include guaranteed housing, free childcare subsidies and wages that could cover the increasing cost of living.
However, others feel that in California’s current economic crisis, the contract represents stability that is important for UAW and the UC system.
“Grass roots union members have voted decisively in support of our bargaining committee’s efforts negotiating this contract,” said Marko Budisic, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. “We need this kind of economic stability when the state budget is in such a chaotic situation. I can breathe a little easier while I plan my academic career.”
Christine Petit, president of UAW Local 2865, said many feel the contract is a stepping stone in helping the UC system stay afloat during a difficult time.
“Now that the contract is successfully ratified by the membership, we can redouble our efforts at making UC an excellent, affordable public university,” she said.
Daraka Larimore-Hall, northern vice president of UAW and a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, highlighted the importance of following through with the contract.
“The contract is only a piece of paper unless it is actively enforced. The next step is to make sure that everywhere our members are working, the contract is being respected and implemented,” he said. “And that takes the active participation of all of our members.”
Despite the ‘Vote No’ campaign, many are glad that the contract was ratified and look to the future with optimism.
“It’s an amazing contract,” Larimore-Hall said. “For us to win a contract that was all gains – we lost nothing – in the middle of a budget crisis and when other public employees are taking really severe hits to their wages, it’s a really great step forward.”
HANNAH STRUMWASSER can be reached at email@example.com.