Contract Negotiations Derail Due to Wording, Potential Fees for GSIs

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Contract language, rather than issues of wage increases and child care subsidies, derailed resumed negotiations between the University of California and a union representing nearly 12,000 academic student employees Tuesday afternoon, and with no further bargaining sessions scheduled, the contract between the university and the union is set to expire Monday.

Officials from the UC and the United Auto Workers Local 2865 - a union representing the graduate student instructors, readers and tutors throughout the UC system - were close to reaching an agreement Tuesday, but negotiations fell apart when union officials realized that fee remittances provided for in their previous contracts and used to cover GSIs' systemwide fees may not be covered if the UC Board of Regents approves changing the name of "educational fee" to "tuition" at their meeting Wednesday, according to Megan Wachspress, a UC Berkeley GSI and union member.

Over the course of negotiations, the union bargaining team became concerned the new contract's language would not cover fee remittances given the potential name change, Wachspress said. Without a fee remission, GSIs would end up footing the bill of more than $9,000 in educational fees, she added.

The wording change - which was first proposed at the UC Commission on the Future in March - is an attempt to "improve transparency by reflecting the now longstanding use of this revenue source for the University's basic operations," according to the action item for the meeting.

When the union brought the issue up with the UC bargaining team, the bargaining team stated that they were not authorized to make further offers and negotiations ended unilaterally with the UC walking away from the table, Wachspress added.

"There's a lot of confusion and anger right now," she said. "To suddenly learn an element in our contract that we absolutely rely on to do our jobs is at risk is hugely upsetting. There's a lack of clarity as to what's happening and what the university's intentions are, given that the university has shown so little respect for our whole membership."

While union members have alleged that the language change may be used by the UC to get around its contractual obligation to provide fee remittances, UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said in an e-mail that the change was "in no way directed at reducing the fee remission that the UC provides."

"Negotiations are going well," Montiel said in the e-mail. "The University's labor negotiator is optimistic that the University and the UAW will resolve the negotiations soon. Pinning down the fee remission issue is a critical step that will enable the University and the UAW to return to the bargaining table in the near future and reach an agreement."

However, according to Nick Kardahji, a UC Berkeley graduate student and the union's recording secretary, no further negotiations have been scheduled and the union's current contract - which has been extended three times in hopes of reaching some sort of agreement - is set to expire Monday.

He added that this latest grievance, along with previous ones, may push the union members to an unfair labor practices strike near the end of the semester.

"The UC's actions constitutes outrageous and unlawful behavior," Kardahji said. "We definitely have the grounds to recommend an unfair labor practice strike to our members, and it's an option we're seriously considering preparing for."


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

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