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Davis, California

Thursday, February 29, 2024

UAW, UCOP bargaining session


Bargaining teams for UAW, UCOP meet at Wyatt Pavilion

The UC Student-Workers Union Local 2865, a labor union representing undergraduate tutors and graduate student workers, recently had one of its bargaining sessions with representatives from the UC Office of the President at UC Davis. The 12 demands of UAW, which can be found on its website, were discussed during this session and many graduate students gave testimony as a signal of how important certain demands were to them.

The UCOP bargaining team arrived half an hour later than the scheduled start time. Emily Breuninger, a Ph.D. candidate in the sociology department, said that this behavior has been a trend at multiple bargaining sessions.

“I was just bargaining in San Diego yesterday, and on the first day we were supposed to start at 10 and we didn’t even start until 11:30,” Breuninger said. “I think that this is a reflection of the university’s attitude toward its workers in terms of how they value their own time more than ours and they don’t see any problem with wasting our time. Repeatedly, the university treats us like we’re children and this is a reflection of that attitude toward graduate students.”

Members of the UAW bargaining team introduced themselves, and the co-chair of the UAW bargaining team, Alli Carlisle, a graduate student from UCLA, asked the UCOP bargaining team to introduce themselves with their gender pronouns. Most of them refused.

“I think if I were to ask someone what their gender pronoun was, […] I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Rick Firtel, the associate dean of Biological Sciences at UCSD.  

Following introductions, the UCOP bargaining team pushed for the establishment of ground rules, particularly emphasizing the unwelcome presence of the media.

“We are not interested in the media,” said Nadine Fishel, the chief negotiator for UCOP. “I don’t want to be learning about your proposals in the media. The media is not welcome [at bargaining].”

According to the Brown Act Pamphlet created by the California Attorney General Office in 2003, however, the law “guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.”

A group of Solano Park residents arrived shortly after the meeting started, chanting for affordable housing in a show of solidarity. Graduate students, particularly Solano Park residents, proceeded to give testimony on how the issue of affordable housing is particularly significant for them.

“[My daughter] has been in daycare since she was nine months old,” said Matthew Thompson, a Ph.D. candidate in the sociology department. “[My other daughter] has been in daycare since she’s four months old. Their daycare alone takes up 113 percent of my stipend. That’s unsustainable [and] it’s wrong. We need to prioritize childcare for our grad students.”

Caroline McKusick, a Ph.D. candidate in the anthropology department, explained the issue of high vacancy rates at a housing complex like West Village, one that, according to her, many graduate and undergraduate students at UC Davis would not consider affordable.

“The city of Davis had a 0.4 percent vacancy [rate] in housing in 2014,” McKusick said. “West Village has a vacancy rate of 17 percent. Much of the rent money from Solano and Orchard Park went in housing reserves. Where is this money going? UC Davis was willing to commit money to tear down Orchard Park, but not to rebuild it. The UC unquestionably has the money and the means to support affordable housing.”

After a lunch break, the UCOP bargaining team had a few responses to the initial demands of the UAW.

“Demand number one was to improve standards of living,” Fishel said. “University is looking into the costs of living before we give our proposal. We have an extensive process that we go through to develop that proposal.”

Fishel moved on to specifically address the issue of affordable housing.

“Demand number two is to ensure access to affordable housing,” Fishel said. “Priority number one for the university is to provide housing. Our campuses are in excellent locations and many of those locations are in costly cities. The university is looking at that.”

However, Fishel further claimed that housing is a student issue, not a worker issue, and that it is off the table for bargaining.

“Workers come to the university every day from all over, and they don’t bargain over housing,” Fishel said. “We do want to make it clear, however, that we understand the importance of housing. We see housing as something that your compensation pays for like every worker’s compensation. Therefore, we are not interested in providing housing subsidies or anything like that in the contract.”

In response to this, Ellie White, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said that she’d “like to ask for a 100 percent raise and then we’ll get affordable housing that way.”

UAW’s sixth demand is to expand access, affordability and comprehensiveness of health care coverage. Fishel said that the university is not in a position to meet this demand.

“The university is not in the position to provide health care remissions to undergraduates,” Fishel said. “We will, however, be making a presentation in a future bargaining session about health care. We are specifically talking about UC SHIP. We again express to you that the remission process for the UC SHIP is part of the contract, not the content of the UC SHIP itself.”

Testifying to the mental health issue, White responded to the claims that the university will not be fulfilling the sixth demand.

“Why do I have to stand here, be anxious, take days to recover from this and have that be okay?” White said. “I grew up in a family that has and still has mental health problems on both sides. UC Davis’ mental health services are absolutely inadequate. I have waited a month for an appointment. The providers are not well trained — they tell me they are not well-trained. They’re Ph.D. students in psychology. This is not a blow at them, but at the university who does not hire experts and does not pay them well enough and does not do anything to keep them here. We pay in and we don’t get anything back, and now we’re hearing you don’t want to discuss it.”

The tenth demand of the UAW is the expansion of union rights, including the demilitarization of the police. Fishel said that it was an inappropriate subject for bargaining. Eric Gudz, a former UC Davis graduate student who was pursuing a Masters degree in transportation, technology and policy and former Army Lieutenant, testified to this issue.

“I can tell you from my personal experience that weapons of war have no business on our colleges campuses,” Gudz said. “I know exactly what these tools are for: they’re for warfare. I am asking you to take the time to consider how these weapons of war need to be and fundamentally [are] an issue of worker safety.”

UC Davis faculty members have drafted a letter of support for the UAW local at UC Davis. Breuninger explained why their support is important.

“It all ties back into the distant power position of academic student workers at the UC,” Breuninger said. “The faculty have more respect and more clout than we do and also have more power within the system to leverage than we do. Our key mechanism for getting things done is banding together, but that’s stronger when we have people with a bit more power and respect within the system backing us up. Also, this contract is about how we work with and relate to faculty, because they are our supervisors. If we have faculty support for the changes in our contract going into this, that will send the image that aspects of the contract are something that both the supervisors and workers agree upon.”

The bargaining session eventually ended with one UAW member chanting “Whose university?” as the rest of the members present responded with “our university.”



Written by: Sabrina Habchi  — campus@theaggie.org


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