Lecturers say contract negotiations are about more than just raises — also about working conditions, student learning
The contract that covers over 6,000 UC lecturers represented by the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) ended on Jan. 31. With the no-strike clause that is contained in their expired contract no longer applicable, lecturers, librarians and students gathered for a rally in front of Mrak Hall on Feb. 3.
During the rally, dozens of attendees sang a modified version of “Solidarity Forever” and chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, UC greed has got to go.”
Speakers at the rally included Katie Rodgers, a UWP lecturer and the president of the UC-AFT Local 2023 as well as Don Palmer, the president of the Davis Faculty Association (DFA) and ASUCD Vice President Shreya Deshpande.
Palmer said the DFA stands in solidarity with UC-AFT and Deshpande said ASUCD also supports the lecturers and librarians.
“UC is treating public education as a privilege, not a public good,” Deshpande said.
At the rally, Michael Gunnarson, a first-year aerospace engineering and music composition double major, said one of his best music teachers was a lecturer on contract.
“He just graduated, and he still doesn’t have a job,” Gunnarson said. “With music, most teachers are lecturers. Tuition’s rising and the cost to hire paid faculty goes up, so people just hire lecturers — it becomes a gig economy.”
UC-AFT is a union that has represented non-tenure track faculty, or lecturers, and librarians at the UC since 1983. According to an FAQ and bargaining update on the UC-AFT website, the union’s negotiating team has been in talks with UC since April 2019 to revise the current contract, which took effect in February 2016.
The update, written by UC-AFT Chief Negotiator Mia McIver, did say going out of contract had affected negotiations “very positively.”
“Negotiations between the University of California and UC-AFT are ongoing, and the University is working hard to negotiate a fair agreement as quickly as possible,” said a statement from the UC Office of the President (UCOP) that was provided to The California Aggie.
The contract offered to the UC-AFT Unit 18 faculty, which includes lecturers, would have increased the compensation for Unit 18 members by 3% each year from 2020 to 2022, followed by 2% adjustments during 2022 to 2025, among other salary increases offered.
“We believe you deserve to vote on our offer, and to be fairly recognized and compensated for the contributions you make to the University and our students,” stated a letter written by Peter Chester, the UC’s Executive Director of Systemwide Labor Relations, sent to the UC-AFT chapters.
On Feb. 1, the day after the contract expired, the UC-AFT bargaining table team released a statement explaining why they did not accept the university’s offer, which they called “an incomplete, take-it-or-leave-it, bundle of articles with little to no movement.”
Their reasons for rejecting the contract included the UC’s use of “salary as a wedge” meant to reduce “commitment to major improvements in job security and workload,” offering other unions “significantly higher salary increases” than those proposed to UC-AFT and a lack of UC proposals on key UC-AFT demands like middle-class salaries, more full-time teaching jobs and fair workload standards.
Rodgers also argued that the proposed contract would have taken rights away from new lecturers.
“The university’s proposal that we rejected says that lecturers are on what they call ‘self-terminated’ contracts with no option to renew,” she said. “All lecturers would have to be rehired. That’s a huge deal — it’s part of what makes someone an adjunct with no right to rehire.”
Around 30% of UC Davis’ classes are taught by lecturers, who fall into “pre-six” and “post-six” categories. Pre-six lecturers are those who are rehired quarter by quarter, then year by year — with a performance review each year — until they reach their sixth year of service. They then receive a six-year merit review, which takes a lecturer from “pre-six” to “post-six.”
“Post-six” status means that a lecturer becomes a “continuing” lecturer, a level of job security similar to gaining tenure for tenure-track faculty. If a lecturer does not pass their six-year review, they remain in limbo. If a department wants a pre-six lecturer to return, they can reappoint them.
Under the proposed contract, however, lecturers would have to be rehired and put back into the system again — a disadvantage in terms of salary and workload.
Post-six faculty, however, still experience difficulties despite their relative job security.
Dr. Bryan Enderle, the treasurer of UC-AFT Local 2023 and a continuing lecturer in the UC Davis Chemistry Department, said he still knows continuing lecturers who teach at other universities.
Though he sells his chemistry readers to students and has a YouTube channel, Enderle said the money from his readers — if there is a sizable enough amount — is donated to Doctors Without Borders and the money from his YouTube channel goes toward pizza for his TAs during their grading sessions.
“Even after you reach that level of security, the cost of living here is just so high that a lot of people don’t even live in Davis,” he said. “I’ve been lucky that I have a full appointment and my department has been accommodating, but it definitely doesn’t work for everybody.
Enderle said he went through his six-year review “totally clueless.”
“There have been folks who’ve been around for way more than six years that haven’t made it through for various reasons — maybe the department doesn’t know if there’s space or enrollment or they just don’t want you,” he said. “It depends.”
Matt Oliver is on the UC-AFT bargaining team and is a pre-six UWP lecturer at UC Davis. He described the pre-six experience as being “marked by contrasts.”
“My chair and colleagues are extremely supportive and professional,” he said via email. “Nevertheless, the larger institution reminds me every day that my job is tentative; that I can lose it at any time regardless of how well I perform.”
He said that despite the resources and letters of support his colleagues and chair provide him each year, he has to wait — often until after his contract expires each year on July 1 — to hear if there’s room for him in the university budget.
“Last year, six of my colleagues did not find out they had lost their jobs until four days before their contracts expired,” he said.
Oliver, Enderle and Rodgers all believe their involvement with the union is not just about better compensation but also about professional courtesy, lecturers’ basic needs and improving students’ learning.
The UCOP statement provided to The Aggie states that the UC believes its “lecturers play an essential role in supporting the University’s educational mission,” adding that its “goal is to reach an agreement on a multi-year contract that includes fair pay and excellent benefits, and recognizes their contributions and is in line with other labor agreements.”
Oliver, however, implied that the UC had not yet demonstrated that belief. He said one way it could offer the lecturers a voice would be to grant them a vote during curricular development, program assessment, department meetings and committee work.
“While we do care very much about fair compensation, we also want UC to acknowledge that we are professionals and that we make a vital contribution to the fabric of the university,” he said. “As a professional courtesy, we’d appreciate if they could at least tell us whether or not we will teach again in time for us to find another job.”
Enderle said the bargaining process was an avenue for helping lecturers focus on teaching.
“The lecturers teach a huge portion of the classes on campus,” he said. “The union is part of the support that helps us do that, to fight for our rights so that we’re able to focus on the classroom. I think the things that the lecturers are asking for and bargaining for are quite reasonable — not just to get paid more, but to have basic rights, like having an office or not be questioning whether we’re going to get hired.”
UC-AFT’s student reach is large, especially because of how many courses are taught by lecturers, according to Rodgers. She said she thought it was important for students to know and understand the structures defining their education.
“[Students should know they] have the right to ask questions, like ‘Why do I have to pay for my parking pass?’ or ‘Why is the university allowing workers and a union to stay out of contract for three years?’” Rodgers said.
She suggested that lecturers could encourage their students to ask the questions she posed and said she tries to remind her students to do the same.
“I think that teachers should help students to know the extent to which working conditions become learning conditions with lecturers and librarians,” Rodgers said. “We need the students to understand this, otherwise it’s all for nothing — then we’ll have no one left to teach.”
Written by: Janelle Marie Salanga — email@example.com
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that lecturers and librarians are without a contract after a UC-AFT contract ended on Jan. 31. That is incorrect. It is just lecturers without a contract. The article has since been updated. The Aggie regrets the error.