UAW local 2865, the UC Student-Workers’ Union, announced that they are to join in a sympathy strike with AFSCME 3299’s campus service workers.
A Nov. 5 expiration of their contract with the UC caused an expiration of the “No Strike Clause,” which prohibits the union from calling a strike.
The union’s current position in their bargaining efforts allows them to legally engage in three different types of strikes: a sympathy strike, an unfair labor practice strike or a grievance strike.
A UAW press release quoted an anonymous member, explaining that “this is a historic moment for the labor movement and the fight for public education at UC. We are standing with AFSCME against illegal and unfair labor practices at this university.”
Caroline McKusick, a member of the union’s executive board at Davis, explained on Nov. 13 in an email to the press that “the UC Student-Workers Union UAW 2865, has announced that [they] will join the sympathy strike with AFSCME service and patient care workers at UC this November 20th.”
Members of the UC Student-Workers’ Union participated in a strike authorization vote from Oct. 31 to Nov. 6 across the University of California.
With 96 percent of those who participated voting in favor of authorizing a strike, UAW 2865 was able to call a sympathy strike with AFSCME 3299.
According to the UAW 2865 website, “turnout was record high” for the vote to authorize a strike.
Meanwhile, negotiations are currently ongoing for a new contract between the University of California and the UC Student-Workers’ Union, which represents over 13,000 graduate student instructors, readers, tutors and TAs.
Some of the union’s grievances stem from large class sizes, low compensation and affordable housing for graduate students. With continuing negotiations, the union hopes to implement new provisions on a statewide basis to improve working conditions.
“We are fighting for smaller class sizes … the right for undocumented students to be hired as TAs [and] are also fighting for competitive compensation,” said Duane Wright, chair of the UC Davis unit of UAW 2865 and a Ph.D. student studying sociology, in an email interview.
Undocumented students pursuing graduate degrees and who are required to TA are left to change their programs or to TA without compensation.
“Nobody should be working for free at this university,” Wright said.
The union is also demanding that the UC provide at least one gender neutral bathroom in each building in order to accommodate with the needs of transgender students and workers.
“Collective bargaining is the best way for the union to defend the workers’ rights,” McKusick said.
The union believes that because class sizes are too big, both the undergraduate and the graduate students’ work and education is impeded. Larger class sizes equate to less one-on-one time with each student, a detriment to the quality of education.
Affordable housing for graduate students is one of the union’s major concerns. In the U.S., affordable housing should not exceed 30 percent of a household’s gross income.
For the graduate student-workers, this is “$425 per month for pre-tax income,” which Wright notes, is nowhere near the cheapest cost of housing in Davis.
“In the case of the AFSCME sympathy strike [they] felt it was necessary to honor their picket line to send a clear message to university management: TAs will not stand by and do nothing while the administration violates the rights of service workers,” Wright said.
Though the union announced a sympathy strike to support AFSCME, Wright said that “hopefully it won’t come to [them] having to go on a ULP strike over these issues.”
Still, student response has been mixed.
Laura Harvey, a fourth-year technocultural studies major, explained that she favors larger classes.
“The TAs talk more in a larger class, and when the TAs talk more, the subject is easier to understand,” Harvey said.
The concern among union members, however, is very real.
“96 percent versus four percent — that’s something to pay attention to,” said Juan Miranda, chair of the UC Davis Graduate Student Association.
Tim Johnson, a graduate student instructor pursuing a Ph.D. in Spanish literature said that he personally has no grievances with his working conditions.
The cap on students in classes he teaches is 25, and going above the limit “has happened, but rarely,” he said.
Johnson is a member of UAW 2865 and voted in favor of strike authorization.
“I’m privileged that I’ve been provided a job for me to survive at school instead of having to look elsewhere to provide for myself; but I am worried about being exploited and that’s why I’m a member of the union,” Johnson said.
On Nov. 18, UAW 2865 plans to participate in a noon Pro-Education, Anti-Repression rally on the second anniversary of the UC Davis pepper spray incident to speak out against increasing police presence and declining educational quality at UC.
The rally, hosted by the union, will be held at the Quad on Nov. 18. Issues protested by the rally are listed on the event’s Facebook page. Among their grievances are rising tuition, UC President Janet Napolitano’s history of deportations, TAs’ low pay and high class sizes.