Graduate Students, Unions Rally in Downtown Berkeley

Photo: Academic student employees, union members and students demonstrated in Downtown Berkeley Tuesday to demand fair contract negotiations with the UC.
James Besser/Photo
Academic student employees, union members and students demonstrated in Downtown Berkeley Tuesday to demand fair contract negotiations with the UC.

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With brightly colored fliers, banners and signs, nearly 50 academic student employees, union members and students rallied outside the UC Berkeley Human Resources office in Downtown Berkeley to demand fair contracts with the University of California Tuesday afternoon, while simultaneous negotiations in Los Angeles resumed to resolve contract terms for a union representing academic student employees following nearly five months of negotiations.

While officials from the UC and the United Auto Workers Local 2865 - a union representing more than 12,000 graduate student instructors, readers and tutors throughout the UC system - resumed bargaining, members of the union along with members of the Coalition of University Employees Teamsters Local 2010, students and other unions rallied briefly at Sather Gate, before marching across the campus and down Center Street to the rally outside the campus human resources office.

"I'm here because the UC has been bargaining in bad faith with our union and refusing to seriously engage in negotiations to figure out a fair contract that allows GSIs and other academic student employees an actual living wage and actual benefits that will allow us to do our job well and continue to teach without being completely poverty stricken," said Jessie Hock, a UC Berkeley graduate student who is teaching this semester.

UC officials have maintained that the university is bargaining in good faith to resolve the terms of a new contract.

For more than five months, UAW Local 2865 and the UC have been negotiating to resolve the terms of the contract, with main sticking points being wage increases and childcare subsidies according to Megan Wachspress, a campus GSI and member of the union. The union's contract with the UC has been extended three times in hopes of reaching an agreement, and is set to expire Nov. 15.

At the rally, members from both the UAW Local 2865 and CUE Local 2010 - a union representing the university's clerical and administrative assistants - spoke, demanding fair contracts. Speeches were interspersed with chants of "No grades, no contract," and "Students and workers under attack, stand up and fight back."

The CUE Local 2010 took part in the rally in solidarity with the workers from UAW Local 2865, said union member Katherine Renfro. The CUE Local 2010 has been working without a contract for two years and is also currently in negotiations with the UC, she added.

"We would like a fair contract," Renfro said. "We want to protect our workers from lay offs. We're also here in solidarity with the UAW workers."

Toward the end of the rally, protesters entered the building where they packed the hallways outside the UC Berkeley Human Resources Office on the seventh floor to present a petition and list of demands to Deborah Harrington, campus director of labor relations. Protesters knocked on the door and chanted "Who's university? Our university!" and "No grades, no contract," as three UCPD officers looked on.

While the doors of the office remained locked, eventually protesters were able to speak with Ken Phillippi, labor relations advocate for the office, asking that Phillippi call Peter Chester - the UC senior negotiator involved in ongoing negotiations today - to relay their demands and concerns to him.

Phillippi was able to call Chester on a cell phone and relay the demands and concerns, after which the protesters as a group decided to disperse and leave the building, ending the rally.

UPDATE: Progress is being made in the negotiations in Los Angeles with most issues resolved and a few remaining to be resolved, according to Wachspress. The university's latest proposal includes the doubling of the child care subsidy as requested by the union, raising it to $900 a semester. The offer also provides for a continuation of the bargaining team's compensation provided for in the old contract, she said.

However, she added that issues of wage increases and child care subsidies for academic student employees working over the summer remain to be resolved.

According to Wachspress, in response to the university's child care subsidy offer, the union reduced its wage increase demands from 5 percent to 4 percent over the next three years.

While Wachspress said she is hopeful about the end results of the negotiations, she added that all the terms in this current offer are subject to change as the union and the UC work to finalize the details of the contract.

"I'm really pleased about the child care subsidy," Wachspress said "While this is a huge step for childcare, the end may or may not be in sight to negotiations. It remains unclear."


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

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