GSIs Call Off Strike

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The UC graduate student union has cancelled a strike set to begin today, less than 24 hours after the university filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union.

Graduate student instructors from eight UC campuses were scheduled to strike over the university's alleged unfair labor practices. The strike has now been postponed to allow for a three-week mediation period.

Marty Morgenstern, director of the state Department of Personnel Administration, will serve as the third-party mediator between the Association of Graduate Student Employees and the university, who have been locked in contract negotiations for the past several months.

Late Wednesday night, the university filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Auto Workers with the state Public Employment Relations Board. University officials charged the UAW, the union representing graduate students, with hindering progress toward a contract by engaging in surface bargaining, failing to make proposals, engaging in recessive bargaining and threatening a strike.

UC spokesperson Brad Hayward said the university's charges against the UAW were motivated by a desire to publicly voice disagreement with the union.

"The university made that filing because they believed it was important to have on-the-record objections to union bargaining," he said.

Christian Sweeney, a UAW spokesperson and president of the local chapter, said he is pleased that the university has agreed to a period of mediation.

The university has agreed to send a letter calling on the academic faculty to comply with its responsibilities, Sweeney said. Graduate student instructors have promised not to strike during mediation, which will begin as soon as possible and conclude by April 7.

A cause of the alleged unfair labor practices is simple lack of knowledge about proper procedures, Sweeney said.

"We think one reason why there are so many problems is because the university has not been informing (professors and staffers) that collective bargaining changes the relationship," he said. "There have been unilateral changes in working conditions. An employer has to remain status quo and change things through the bargaining process. This is not happening."

He cited modifications in workload, hiring criteria and increased section sizes as examples of university changes made separately from the collective bargaining process.

UC President Richard Atkinson said relations between the university and the union have been complicated by the unusual and largely undefined relationship between graduate students and professors.

"In the area of academic judgement, we have not come to a resolution," he said. "Academic judgement concerns areas like course content and organization. There is still an open debate between the union and the faculty as to how this area of the contract will be resolved."

Judith Boyette, UC associate vice president for human resources and benefits, said she was glad graduate students chose to continue working toward an agreement.

"Our position has been that we feel we should be bargaining," she said. "We are happy we will be in mediation and we hope it will resolve."

She cited maximum work hours as one area of the contract that would be difficult to resolve.

Currently, the average workload for graduate student instructors is defined as an average of 220 hours a quarter or 340 a semester. Graduate students have asked this system be modified so that their hours of work per week are stipulated.

Boyette said a weekly workload would cause problems because certain classes may require an extensive time commitment during some weeks and very little during others.

"When you have huge variations in courses, it is trying to make specific rules about how many hours you can work a week," she said. "Some classes may have several papers and others may only have a midterm and a final. The professor is responsible for deciding whether a class needs three exams or two, and the faculty feels strongly about making these decisions."

Graduate students have requested weekly working hours be capped at 16-20 hours a week and allow two 30-hour work weeks a term.

Boyette added that the two groups need to start discussing the details of the contract rather than broad ideas.

"We have spent a long period dealing with conceptual issues and talking to the union," she said. "Now we feel that we really want to resolve the issues, and we need the language to know if we agree, and if so, what exactly will the contract say."

Debra Harrington, UC Berkeley's manager of labor relations, said if the latest attempt fails, she hopes to continue bargaining.

"This is a voluntary mediation and does not preclude parties from going back and trying to bargain," she said.


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