Senate Bill 259 was recently approved by the Senate with a vote of 46-27. The bill, if approved by Gov. Jerry Brown, will affect 14,000 research assistants in the University of California (UC) system, as well as 2,000 at the California State University (CSU) system.
The bill was created by Sen. Loni Hancock with the intent to allow graduate student researchers to organize and advocate for issues relating to child care, wages, hours and workplace safety.
According to caperb.com, SB 259 would amend the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) by covering student employees whose employment depends on their status as students, without any other conditions.
Also, because graduate students are prone to frequently switching jobs between being a researcher and being a teaching assistant, they will now not lose their union benefits in the interim of the change.
The flip side is that this measure will further exhaust funding at both UC and CSU campuses. UC has come out against the bill.
A letter issued by UC President Mark Yudof to Brown, outlined reasons for the UC’s opposition to the bill. The cost to the UC system is estimated to be roughly between $10 million to $18 million. In addition, the letter goes on to theorize that the bill may prolong the time it takes for a graduate student to complete their degree.
“UC requests that you [Brown] veto SB 259 on the grounds that it would undermine the University’s competitiveness as a world-renowned research university,” Yudof said in the letter. “Neither the State of California nor UC can afford to fund these additional costs.”
Yudof also argues that the bill will change the relationship between faculty and student researchers from mentor-mentee to employer-employee, which could prove to be detrimental.
In the wake of the release of the UC statement by Yudof, responses to the arguments highlighted in the letter were released.
“We would add that while the ‘special faculty-student relationship’ is indubitably an important part of academic culture, it is also precisely what makes GSRs occasionally vulnerable to being overworked, underpaid or arbitrarily treated,” said the Berkeley Faculty Association in a letter issued to California Assembly Member Felipe Fuentes.
Various other arguments both for and against the bill have been issued, but the decision rests solely in the governor’s hands. He has until the end of September to reach his decision.
ANDREW POH can be reached at email@example.com.