Graduate student union files charges against UC

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Correction Appended

A union representing academic student employees throughout the University of California filed an unfair labor practice charge against the UC Friday afternoon, more than six weeks after union members at UC Berkeley filed 63 grievances and a formal information request over a campus benefits decentralization policy.

A trustee from the United Auto Workers Local 2865 - a union which represents nearly 12,000 graduate student instructors, readers and tutors systemwide - filed the charge with California's Public Employment Relations Board on behalf of the union, alleging that the university made unilateral changes to its commitment to fund fee remissions and health benefits for union members, failed to meet over a campus benefits decentralization plan and violated the union's collective bargaining agreement.

UC spokesperson Steve Montiel declined to comment on the charge.

Specifically, the unfair labor practice charge addresses multiple information requests that union members submitted to the labor relations division of the UC Berkeley Human Resources Office since Feb. 28 over a campus benefits decentralization policy that was implemented April 1.

"From February 28, 2011 and continuing to this date the employer has refused to provide the information requested despite multiple requests made to the employer," the charge states.

According to the charge, the union submitted information requests on Feb. 28, April 12 and April 19.

On April 1, the campus implemented an employee benefits decentralization policy with goals of aligning departmental budgets with expenses, bringing benefits expenditures closer to available funding levels and increasing departmental flexibility in utilizing resources, according to a final plan for the policy.

However, some campus graduate students have seen the policy as an elimination of campus funding commitments for graduate student fee remissions and health benefits, expressing concern that the policy may result in cuts to the number of teaching positions for graduate students given predicted increases in costs of health care benefits and fee remissions.

In response to the policy, union members filed 63 grievances as well as an information request with the labor relations division of the campus Human Resources Office.

Friday does not mark the first time the union has filed such charges against the UC. In September 2010, while the union was negotiating its contract with the UC, and after repeated breakdowns in negotiations, the union filed unfair labor practice charges against the UC, asserting that the university was bargaining in bad faith.

Throughout the negotiating process, officials from the university had maintained that the UC had been bargaining in good faith, and at the end of November, the UC and the union came to an agreement after more than five months of negotiating, with union members voting to ratify the contract in a highly contentious vote.

According to Charlie Eaton, a campus graduate student and trustee for the union, for the charge filed Friday, the union hopes that upon review of the evidence provided, the board could "compel the university to provide the information requested."

"We took this action to get the (campus) to provide information about this policy because having that information will show that this policy will harm the quality of undergraduate education and the university's ability to recruit and retain qualified graduate students," he said. "The university implemented this policy in a way that violates our contract, and this policy needs to be repealed."

Though the union members and campus labor relations representatives previously had difficulty choosing a mutually agreeable time and neutral location to meet to discuss the grievances, they are slated to meet May 6 in Sproul Hall.

Tags: UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS BOARD, UNITED AUTO WORKERS LOCAL 2865

Correction: Wednesday, April 27, 2011
A previous version of this article contained a headline stating the GSI union filed a lawsuit against the university. In fact, it filed unfair labor practice charges.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

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



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