Teaching assistants, tutors and other academic student employees at all nine University of California campuses will be on strike starting next week after contract negotiations broke down earlier this month.
The strike is scheduled to begin during the last week of classes, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 5. Rajan Mehta, an United Auto Workers Union (UAW) bargaining team member at UC Berkeley, said the strike could continue through the end of the quarter. The California chapter of the UAW, the labor union that represents TAs, called for the strike Tuesday because of what it said are unfair UC labor practices.
“The University has been failing to bargain in good faith,” Mehta said. “They like to sit at the table and not do anything after the meeting. It’s basically bullshitting us.”
The UAW’s contract with UC ended Sept. 30, and negotiations for a new contract have been in the works since March. During a state-mediated negotiation two weeks ago, neither side could agree on sympathy strike provisions in the contract, Mehta said. Sympathy strikes occur when members from one union join the strike of another union out of sympathy. UC labor contracts contain “No Strike” prohibitions against “virtually all manner of strikes, including sympathy strikes.”
“UC’s lecturers, librarians, police officers, service and patient care employees have all agreed that their ‘No Strikes’ provisions prohibit sympathy strikes,” UC said in a statement. “Thus far, the UAW has not agreed to an explicit prohibition against sympathy strikes, which UC believes undercuts the promise of labor peace during the contract.”
Mehta said the undergraduates that he has talked to understand the union’s position and support it.
“It’s unfortunate that undergraduates are caught in the battle,” he said, “but in the long run it’s for the quality of their education.”
While it is unknown how many TAs and academic student employees plan to participate in the strike, UC said classes will continue.
“UC wants to assure our students, faculty, staff and the public that all UC campuses have contingency plans in place to deal with strikes and to help ensure that instructional activities, as well as general University operations, will continue with as little disruption as possible,” the UC statement said.
The lack of TAs, however, could delay when this quarter’s grades are available. At UCSB, departments such as the Math Dept. have already made plans to lessen the effects of the strike. Doug Moore, Math Dept. chair, said the strike is not an ideal situation, and instructors will have to be creative in order to get grades out in time, considering options such as switching to multiple choice finals.
“It could be a major delay. Some instructors will choose to continue with essay-type questions,” he said.
Kevin Smith, a TA in the History Dept. who plans to join the strike, said he feels terrible about the strike, but that students should inform Chancellor Yang of their displeasure.
“They are not being screwed by the TA union. It’s the University,” he said.
Not all TAs will be participating in the strike, though. Jason Dormady, a TA in the History Dept. who is not a member of UAW, said he will not be a part of the strike and he will continue with the classes as planned.
“I don’t want to be associated with the UAW and their political activities,” he said.
Depending on the size of a particular section, the strike can have variable impact on final exams. Susan Gosling, English Dept. undergraduate advisor, said large sections are going to be difficult to deal with, but some faculty members have said they are willing to help grade final exams.
“Our number one priority is to get students ready for their finals,” she said, “and do everything we can to get their grades on time.”