Academic employee union files grievances

Photo: Jennifer Tucker was the first GSI to file a grievance.
Kevin Foote/Photo
Jennifer Tucker was the first GSI to file a grievance.

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Aaida Samad discusses the response to campus benefits decentralization.

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A UC Berkeley policy to decentralize campus employee benefits came into effect Friday, but controversy has arisen among members of a union representing academic student employees on the campus who are filing more than 60 grievances, asserting that the change violates their contract with the university.

The benefits decentralization policy, which will be implemented during April, became effective Friday, according to Erin Gore, campus associate vice chancellor for budget and resource planning. Under the new policy, funding of employee benefits will be fully decentralized to departments, according to a summary of the policy prepared by the campus Budget Office.

The policy is "completing the cycle" of standardizing how the campus deals with benefits, said Vice Chancellor Frank Yeary. According to Yeary, most of the departments on campus already manage decentralized benefits with the majority of their funding sources.

Yeary serves on an advisory board for The Daily Californian that does not have control over editorial content.

"What this policy is going to do is it will distribute both the cost of the benefits, but also the funds required to pay the costs at the same time for the balance of the benefits the departments don't already deal with," Yeary said.

According to the policy summary, all faculty, staff and student employee benefits would be funded and managed at a department level.

While the policy was originally slated for implementation March 1, it was delayed in order to incorporate a large amount of input from campus groups that the policy received, Yeary said.

"We have been looking at that input so we can understand how we can make this achieve its goal in a way that fits our culture," Yeary said.

Among the groups concerned are campus members of the United Auto Workers Local 2865, a union representing nearly 12,000 academic student employees - readers, graduate student instructors and tutors - throughout the UC system.

Some union members, who found out about the policy near the end of February, have filed 62 grievances with campus labor relations in response to the policy, according to Charlie Eaton, a campus GSI and trustee for the union.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the labor relations division of the campus Human Resources Office is working to process the grievances in accordance with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

"The campus will work with the union to consider the alleged contract violations in accordance with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, and take appropriate action," she said in an email.

According to Eaton, while the labor relations division has not responded to the union's Feb. 28 informal information request regarding the policy, it responded to the grievances on March 31, scheduling a grievance meeting for the week of April 11.

Jennifer Tucker, a campus GSI and campus unit chair for the union who filed the first grievance at the end of February, said union members have filed grievances because under the union's contract with the university, the administration is required to negotiate with the union over changes to the contract that "will materially impact working conditions."

She added that while the policy is structured to give departments flexibility, she is concerned that in order to create savings, departments will reduce GSI positions which, she said, are a critical part of how graduate students fund part of their education and receive health care.

According to Tucker, the policy creates "dangerous incentives" for departments to increase the overall workload of GSIs that they hire, since the departments are forced to make cuts to the GSI positions that they are able to offer.

"This is an attempt to force departments to make cuts to GSI-ships and TA-ships," Tucker said. "I am concerned both about the impact that this will have on GSIs and their ability to fund their education and get health care coverage, but also the really negative impact I see for students as GSIs are having to do more work than they should have to do."


Aaida Samad covers higher education.

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