Preview of UAW, UCOP negotiations
The UC Student-Workers Union UAW Local 2865, the labor union that represents student workers at UC Davis and in the UC system, will begin bargaining for a new contract in March of 2018 following the expiration of its current contract. UAW has listed a total of 12 demands.
Amara Miller, a Ph.D. student in sociology and head steward of UAW Local 2865, spoke about the bargaining process that will take place between the UC and UAW.
“Essentially how it works with bargaining is that we have a group of graduate students who are democratically-elected members that serve as bargaining representatives for our union,” Miller said. “These bargaining representatives then negotiate with administration to determine the days and times that we actually meet. We usually rotate between every single UC campus and we have bargaining sessions with admin on those campuses as we negotiate our new contracts.”
Speaking to the ability of the greater Davis community to support UAW, Miller explained the concept of open bargaining.
“Open bargaining means that when we go to the table to negotiate with UCOP, all our members of our bargaining team and all [union] members and even community members who have a stake in the bargaining — for example, undergraduates — are welcome to attend,” Miller said. “Everyone who would like to come can come to the meetings and see what goes on in those meetings and also participate.”
In 2014, UAW was successful in negotiating a contract that provided substantial gains for workers covered under the union. Miller mentioned some of the benefits of the 2014 contract.
“We were able to get a 17 percent wage increase over four years that was higher than the cost of living to try to equalize that pay,” Miller said. “It is still not up to par with comparable universities and that is going to be a big ask with this bargaining contract as well. We also were able to get additional health benefits for dependents and access to all-gender bathrooms, which benefit not just graduate students but undergraduate students as well. We won a pretty substantial increase to the child care subsidies that graduate students have access to which is very exciting for graduate student parents.”
Duane Wright, a Ph.D. candidate in the sociology department and the previous unit chair for the local unit of UAW during the last contract negotiations, talked about the importance of awareness and involvement during collective bargaining.
“The most important part was organizing outside of the bargaining room, because there is an inherent contradictory or antagonistic relationship between workers and management,” Wright said. “Management want to get the most out of workers and so it’s not like coming up with a clever argument is going to get you a better pay raise. Rather, you actually have to put public pressure on them for them to do the right thing.”
Emily Frankel, a member of UAW unit at UC Davis and a Ph.D. student in languages and literature, mentioned the significance and importance behind the demand for housing.
“These demands were not just voted on here on this campus, these are UC-wide demands listed in chronological order of importance,” Frankel said. “Across the UC universities, access to affordable and well-maintained housing comes up as number two. [The demand includes] providing financial support to offset rising costs of housing across UC campuses and improving availability and affordability of UC housing.”
Ellie White, a member also working with Frankel on the issue of housing while pursuing a Ph.D. in civil engineering, explained the issue of graduate student housing. Solano Park, which is essentially the only housing provided for graduate students by the university, is set to be demolished in 2020 and housing alternatives are not up to par, according to Frankel and White.
“The houses at Orchard Park are getting old, so the university wants to renovate these places,” White said. “The issue that came up back in 2013 and 2014 was that the UC wanted to replace these houses with luxury housing. The same model that we see in West Village, for example, they wanted to apply to family housing. These are students who […] are single mothers and single fathers and they are living on the very little stipend that the UC gives to its teaching assistants and graduate student workers.”
Frankel commented that the university does not publicize its budget, so graduate students living at Solano Park do not know if their rent is being used in their best interest.
“In Solano Park, there are close to 300 units here and if you take into consideration the rents that are being paid, it is $2,800,000 that the university is collecting a year from graduate and undergraduate families, give or take, because there might be vacancies and people moving in and out,” Frankel said. “Solano Park has already been paid for. We do know that obviously that money needs to go to maintenance as well as the salaries of the people who are working at Solano Park. However, a good million and a half of that money is probably not needed for Solano Park. The question is, where is the money going that renters are paying in to the university — renters who many of whom work at the university and attend school here. We know that the money is going into university reserves.”
Describing the way UC Davis uses most of the money it receives from renters in Solano Park, Frankel is concerned about the possibility of private ownership of graduate student housing.
“[Administration] uses that money [from the university reserves] to create other housing projects with third-party vendors which is essentially what is going to happen here at Solano Park and Orchard Park as well,” Frankel said. “Once these housing projects are in the hands of developers, we have to really question how sensitive developers are going to be to the lives of students who are working and going to school at the same time and who have families.”
White questioned UC Davis’ true commitment to diversity after hitting obstacles with administration when asking about subsidizing rent for graduate students.
“If UC Davis is truly committed to having a more diverse population, then they would pay us a living wage and they would make affordable housing accessible for us,” White said. “But, with their actions, they are telling us ‘We don’t want your kind here.’ What I see is the university sending a clear signal of ‘You’re not welcome here, we want the people who can afford West Village.’”
Miller commented on the reason that she believed the greater Davis community should care about these upcoming negotiations.
“Our working conditions are the learning conditions of undergrads and I think this is something that is really vital to emphasize,” Miller said. “All of the work that our members due is really vital to the success of undergrad students in this university. Graduate students teach a lot of instructional hours in the UC. I think it should definitely matter to undergraduates, because if we’re underpaid, and we’re dealing with depression, and we don’t have access to treatment, and we don’t have childcare and we have to bring our children to work, these all impact undergraduate students and the quality of the education they receive.”
Miller welcomes UC Davis students and community members who want to support the UAW to come to open bargaining meetings. The location and time of these meetings will be announced on the UAW local website and through social media.
Written by: Sabrina Habchi — firstname.lastname@example.org