Talks With GSI Union Fall Apart Once Again

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Following more than four months of punctuated contract negotiations between University of California officials and a union representing more than 12,000 academic student employees, the two parties again failed to come to a compromise Friday, settling none of the outstanding issues that were on the table when they entered negotiations.

Officials from the UC and the United Auto Workers Local 2865 - a union representing graduate student instructors, readers and tutors throughout the UC system - resumed bargaining Thursday, but negotiations broke down Friday without progress on the contentious issue of childcare subsidies.

The union's contract, which would have expired Friday, has been extended a second time and is now set to expire Oct. 29 with negotiations resuming Oct. 27. Because of the delays and alleged bad-faith bargaining by the university, an unfair labor practices strike is being considered by the union.

While the parties are close to an agreement on some issues, several major issues - childcare subsidies, worker wage increases and bargaining team compensation - remain unresolved, said Daraka Larimore-Hall, the union's northern vice president and a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara.

"Of the issues that are still outstanding, increasing childcare subsidies is one in which the university is taking a position that is just 100 percent without merit or sanity," Larimore-Hall said. "They don't want to take the responsibility to be a family-friendly employer. Their position is completely ridiculous, without logic and, frankly, cold-hearted."

According to Nick Kardahji, a UC Berkeley graduate student and the union's recording secretary, under the current contract, the childcare subsidy for academic student workers is $450 a semester, a fraction of the average cost of childcare he estimates to be around $1,500 per month for preschool-age children. He added that during negotiations, the union requested this subsidy be doubled, hoping to close the gap between the costs and what the subsidy covers.

In response to specific questions about potential contract provisions, UC spokesperson Steve Montiel has maintained that UC officials "are attempting to resolve the negotiations."

Throughout the drawn-out process, which has been marked by repeated breakdowns in negotiations, the union has consistently asserted that the UC has not been bargaining in good faith, filing unfair labor practice charges against the UC with California's Public Employment Relations Board at the end of September. However, officials from the university have maintained that the UC has been bargaining in good faith and working to reach an agreement in a timely fashion.

"The parties are very close, and we are hopeful that agreement can be reached by the end of October," Montiel said in an e-mail.

With this latest setback, the negotiations between the university and the union have reached record levels of delays, according to Larimore-Hall. If "unproductive and unlawful" behavior by the university continues, an unfair labor practice strike is an option that the union is considering, he said.

While Kardahji said a strike would be an effective means of putting pressure on the university, he asserted that it would not be in the interest of either party.

"If things continue in this fashion, (a strike) may well end up being the only way that the UC is prepared to listen to reason," he said.


Aaida Samad covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]

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