The Daily Californian Online

Union unable to meet with campus over grievances

By Aaida Samad
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Category: News > University > Higher Education

In response to a UC Berkeley policy implemented April 1 to decentralize campus employee benefits, concerned members of a union representing academic student employees have filed 63 grievances with the campus, but are struggling to arrange a time and neutral location for a meeting with campus officials almost six weeks after the first grievance was filed.

While a group of around 25 graduate student instructors gathered in Dwinelle Hall Tuesday to meet with a representative from the labor relations division of the campus Human Resources Office to address the grievances filed by a members of the United Auto Workers Local 2865, the UC representative failed to show up, according to Charlie Eaton, a campus graduate student and trustee for the union.

A meeting to address the grievances must be held "within fifteen calendar days of the date on which the ... grievance was filed," according to a contract between the UC and the union - which represents nearly 12,000 campus graduate students instructors, readers and tutors throughout the system.

A statement from the campus labor relations division said that "the union had constraints regarding scheduling that precluded them from meeting with the University at the scheduled time and location."

"The University is reviewing schedules for alternative meeting times," the statement reads.

Eaton said issues in scheduling the meeting stemmed in part from finding a neutral location to meet. He said that the campus labor relations division has "insisted on holding the meeting in their office," while graduate students have asked that the meeting be held on campus to accommodate their work and class schedules.

"We want the to have the meeting at an accessible and neutral location, and we want to work with a mutually acceptable place to meet," Eaton said. "The university has been dragging its feet for six weeks because they don't want to own up to their elimination of funding commitments for graduate student fee remissions and health benefits."

At a teach-in held outside of Anthony Hall before the scheduled meeting, concerned graduate students gathered to discuss the policy.

Christopher Miller, a campus graduate student in the Department of English, said the policy will result in cuts to the number of teaching positions for graduate students and will put an increased burden on departments that are unable to adapt financially to the predicted increases in the cost of health care benefits and fee remissions.

In response to concern regarding increases in fee remission costs, a summary of campus input on the policy states, "the intention of the benefits decentralization plan is to continue to fully fund benefits for ... Graduate Student Instructors and to hold campus units harmless from the impact of student fee increases on Graduate Student Instructor fee remissions."

However, some expressed concern that the campus allocation for fee remissions and benefits will be insufficient to cover health care and benefits increases, forcing departments to cut GSI, reader and tutor positions to cover costs.

According to Miller, the policy will have impacts on educational experiences that will be felt by both graduate and undergraduate students.

"This policy compromises the fundamental mission of the university and the quality of both the undergraduate and graduate experience on campus," Miller said.

Aaida Samad covers higher education.

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