The UC Student-Worker Union (UAW Local 2865) bargaining team filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the UC Office of the President in late January. The charge will be reviewed toward the end of February.
The charge was filed by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). According to the PERB website, the state-run administrative agency aids in “bargaining statutes.” They support employees of California’s public schools, colleges and universities, among employees of other public agencies.
UAW Local 2865 believed they were being treated unfairly by the UC Management in their working conditions. Specifically, the UC Management bargaining representatives have refused to bargain about the 18-quarter limit for Teaching Assistants (TAs). They have also refused to bargain over the issue of student-to-TA ratios.
In addition to filing the complaint, the bargaining team met with UC Management for a bargaining session on Feb. 10 and 11 at UC Davis. After a long break since their first bargaining session was cancelled in November 2013, the Union has regrouped. Their demands included gender neutral bathrooms, more undocumented student-worker rights and smaller class sizes.
Duane Wright, a third-year student in the sociology Ph.D. program at UC Davis and unit chair of UAW Local 2865, expressed that the greatest challenges of the current class sizes is the student-to-TA ratio. Wright explained that with her previous experience in the education system, she was able to develop personal relationships with students; here it has proven to be a much more challenging task.
“It’s difficult to not go above and beyond the hours that we’re paid because it means so much to us. In a survey back in 2011, over 100 members responded saying they’ve gone over hours working for free just because teaching means so much … I’ve held extra office hours and extra study sessions. It’s hard to see people struggling and not want to help them,” Wright said.
She says one can only speculate as to why the University would not be responding to allegations of too large class sizes.
“It’s come down to the privatization of the University. The fact that it’s being run more like a private corporation than a research institution …This model is less about quality education and research and more about branding that’s based on growth to make it look successful. It’s that corporate model that says, well if they’re growing, everything must be going good. There’s no sober analysis about what’s the quality of education and the quality of life on this campus,” Wright said.
As employees of a higher education institute funded by the state, they are protected by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. Section 3567 states that any employee or group of employees may present a grievance to the employer if a higher education employer refuses to participate “in good faith” in an impasse procedure.
Caroline McKusick, a third-year student in the anthropology Ph.D. program at UC Davis and guide on the union’s executive board, explained that the union filed the grievance because they refused to bargain over the student-to-TA ratios.
“The University originally refused to move on [our] demands but now they are because of the large amount of bargaining sessions across the state … We are hoping that if we keep bargaining we can convince them to come further on these issues to prioritize our compensation,” McKusick said.
Wright said that the University simply wouldn’t bargain over the TA-student ratios. The reason the union filed the complaint was because they believe that they have unfair working conditions and that their demands must be heard. She adds that there is a huge difference in the working conditions when a TA has 10 students versus 100.
“If you’re like myself and you’re more interested in a student-centered approach and breaking the student-teacher barrier, smaller class size helps facilitates that,” Wright said. “When you have a larger class size it’s a more one-way transmission of knowledge and you’re treating students like empty vessels that you have to pass knowledge onto … by having larger class sizes we don’t have the educational authority to teach how we want to teach.”
Students have differing views on the matter of their class sizes. Shanna Howard, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, said that large classes make it much harder to have one-on-one interactions with professors.
“There is not a whole lot that can be done because so many people need to be taking the same classes. The size of the larger lectures would have to drastically decrease to make much of a difference, and I don’t know if this would be possible … Most of the professors I’ve had for my large classes would have no idea who I was if I saw them outside of class, and if I needed to get a letter of recommendation [from] a professor I would have nobody to ask,” Howard said.
Caileigh Brown, a fourth-year computer science major, said that she prefers small classes because it allows for more personal interaction with professors but that she has still been able to connect with professors and TAs by putting in much more time out of class. She sees this as more of a student’s responsibility whether they connect with their professors and TAs or not.
“The TAs tend to be overworked because of the large classes and grading … students, however, tend to not go out of their way to talk to the TAs so I think that might be more of a student issue,” Brown said. “Chances are anything that’s being bargained won’t be around by the time I graduate. The facilities I need, like the gender neutral bathrooms, are actually available on campus … at the ARC or the SCC. It’s more a matter of seeking them out.”
Though there is no date set for demands presented in the bargaining sessions, union members believe that much is at stake if the University doesn’t come to an agreement with them. Wright noted that graduate students are an integral part in freeing up professors time for research — research that brings the University prestige and therefore more revenue.
“We are a central part to the foundation of the University. With the declining graduate student working conditions, it negatively affects the whole graduate program,” Wright said. “You can see the decline in education and the decline of the University overall. What we’re fighting for is quality, accessible education.”