Mia McIver began teaching as a lecturer at UC Irvine in 2010. A self-described “freeway flyer,” she would also teach classes at Loyola Marymount University at 8 a.m., speeding through Los Angeles traffic to teach classes at UC Irvine the same afternoon.
Mclver described how she has dealt with the tribulations of working as a lecturer at UC Irvine and later UC Los Angeles for over a decade. While she was eventually hired as a full-time lecturer at UCLA, Mclver was unable to obtain full-time work for over five years at UC Irvine.
“Every summer, my friends and colleagues would come to me, and let me know that there had been discussions among the program leadership, [and] that I might not be reappointed the next year,” Mclver said.
“These rumors were vague,” she continued. “They seemed unjustified, since I thought I was doing a pretty good job. And they were really scary, because I didn’t know what I was going to do if I didn’t have a job.”
According to McIver, the annual job uncertainty she faced was the result of continual employment as a lecturer, not a professor, meaning she was kept on short yearly or quarterly contracts that were not renewed until the last minute.
McIver recalled one incident at UCLA where she was set to have a performance review that would lead to a continuing appointment, but academic personnel tried to try to push back and delay it in retaliation to her taking parental leave to care for her newborn.
“What they were essentially telling me was that … I’ve been a precarious, extremely contingent lecturer for more than a decade, and now they were going to retaliate against me and basically push back my promotion because I had had a baby,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible. And I have to say, that’s the least of it. I have seen gross disrespect, marginalization, wage theft and advocated to fix all of those things.”
Now, McIver is fighting to change that system as President of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), a union that represents lecturers and librarians across all University of California campuses.
After three years of bargaining and negotiations with UC management yielded little success, the UC-AFT is preparing for a strike. The union is fighting for a stable rehiring process and increased compensation, amongst other demands, and members of the union are ready to walk out of the classroom until an agreement is reached.
Three years ago, McIver helped lead what she called “the largest member engagement effort in UC-AFT history,” personally traveling to every UC campus to hold town halls and listening sessions. The union conducted extensive surveys and obtained data from the UC Office of the President to create proposals that would create their initial bargaining goals.
“Our demands, our goals, the changes are all coming from the voices of our members themselves — and that’s something that I’m really proud of,” McIver said.
After months of preparation, union and UC representatives finally met face to face for the first time on Apr. 17, 2019, formally beginning negotiations. Since then, the two parties have discussed 48 economic and non-economic articles and side letters, but the crux of negotiations centered around workload, pay and job stability.
“Throughout our discussions regarding a new contract over the course of two and a half years, we have worked to meet the concerns raised by the union, including on their priority issues of compensation, job stability, and workload,” UC Office of the President spokesperson Ryan King said in a statement to the Nexus regarding negotiations with the union.
On Jan. 31, 2020, the UC lecturers’ contract expired, and they have been working without one ever since while continuing negotiations — partially over Zoom — until June 15, 2021.
As a result of the previous 26 months of negotiations, tentative agreements have been made on 28 of the 48 issues brought forth by the union. However, the UC’s proposal to raise the bottom wage scale by 5% with raises averaging 1.2% beginning 2022 was rejected by the union, with UC-AFT members arguing that these raises won’t keep track with inflation. In addition, Mclver claimed that the UC’s proposals on workload amount to almost nothing.
“We don’t consider their workload proposal to really be a serious effort to address the problems that we’ve identified for them.”
UCSB lecturer Branden Adams described the two-year ordeal in an informational picket where students and faculty alike marched in support of better compensation and job security for lecturers.
“The contract campaign has been going on for two years. I’m a first-time trade unionist, so I think that two years is a long-ass time. It feels like a long time to resolve a set of very simple issues,” Adams said.
The union submitted its final offer to the university on May 25, 2021. At the same time, members of the union were given the opportunity to vote on whether or not to authorize a strike. This vote ultimately passed with an overwhelming 96% of members in favor of authorizing a strike.
“This vote does not mean UC-AFT will go on strike immediately, but rather that UC lecturers have placed trust in their democratically-elected colleagues on the negotiating team to call a legal, protected strike if UC management fails to adequately address the problems lecturers have laid out,” the union stated in a June 2 press release on their website.
Presently, the UC and the union have entered into an impasse, which is a government-mandated, mediation and fact-finding process on both sides. Legally, the union cannot strike over any contract-related negotiations — which includes issues like salary and job stability — until the impasse process concludes, which can take anywhere from a few months to half a year, according to sources within the union.
However, members of union leadership are currently weighing whether or not to call a strike over unfair labor practices alleged against the UC system, according to Bill Quirk, executive director of UC-AFT. This potential strike, known as a ULP (Unfair Labor Practice) strike, would not be subject to impasse proceedings and thus could be called as soon as union leadership desires.
Quirk said that “moving and teaching online is more work,” and that in return, lecturers were due work offset or some form of compensation contractually. Quirk claimed that not only had the university failed to provide compensation to lecturers for their extra workload during the pandemic, but that the university refused to even negotiate with the union on this issue in violation of their contract.
Quirk believes the overall mistreatment of lecturers across the board will encourage union members to rally behind an unfair labor practice strike.
“The way they treat us at one bargaining table is inseparable from the way they treat us at other bargaining tables. I think that concept is what … will move people from our contract campaign to a ULP strike. They treat us like shit. They don’t negotiate when they have a legal obligation to. Therefore I’m willing to strike over this stuff that we can legally strike over now,” he said.
According to McIver, the union currently has approximately six unfair labor practice charges against the UC pending before the California Public Employment Relations Board. She declined to state whether the union would hold another authorization vote before any ULP strike.
The union has drawn the support of Santa Barbara Mayor and UCSB alumna Cathy Murillo,
who marched with lecturers in support of contract changes during their two-day, UC-wide Oct. 13 and 14 informational picket, in which lecturers educated students about the realities of their positions. ]
“I come from a union family,” Murillo said “My grandmother unionized her shop under the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. All of our prosperity was built on her toil as a unionized worker. I used to work at KCSB Radio and got to know the labor unions on campus.”
Murillo attended the picket to bring attention to the lecturers’ cause.
“Being mayor gives me political power, and I like to share it with people and causes that need it. My presence draws some attention to their struggle. The broader community can lend support too, as I’m sure we are all trying to make a decent salary, pay rent, enjoy good medical care and retire with some dignity,” Murillo said.
In an email to the Nexus, Murillo encouraged lecturers and students to keep up the fight.
“The message is, ‘Keep Fighting.’ To UC I say, please reward these hard-working employees with a good salary and job security. To the students I would say, the next time you see a demonstration on campus, take five minutes to stop and ask, ‘Hey what are you protesting? What are your issues?’ Even a show of interest is heartening for workers fighting for a good labor contract.”
Other California politicians have lent their support to the strike: 12 California assemblymembers wrote a letter to UC President Michael V. Drake on Oct 19, imploring him to approve a new contract for lecturers that addresses the union’s concerns. California State Senator Monique Limón — who represents all of Santa Barbara and over half of Ventura in the State Senate — also lent her support to the UC’s lecturers.
“I have been following this issue closely, and I am supportive of fair contracts for all UC employees, including lecturers,” she wrote in an email to the Nexus. “For almost eleven years, I worked on the UCSB campus and witnessed firsthand the value that lecturers bring to the classroom and the impact they carry on the academic life of students. It is my sincere hope there is a resolution soon, especially given the unprecedented times and hybrid learning.”
In the days before the union’s informational picket, UC management sent a new contract proposal, which they claimed in a statement to the Nexus “will increase salaries, strengthen job stability, and provide greater professional support by addressing workload issues and instituting a broader professional review system.”
“All bargaining unit faculty will receive 3% salary increases 60 days from contract ratification and annual salary increases of 3% thereafter for the term of the contract.”
Additionally, lecturers would switch to three-year reappointment terms after their third year, and the university promised “a more transparent and fair assessment of workload assignments, including posting workload policies on campus websites.”
The union largely disagrees with this proposal.
Quirk tore into the offer in a bargaining update to lecturers on Oct 19.
“There are 12 outstanding contract articles, including our top priorities workload and compensation, that are important for a fair contract and on which UCOP has offered little to no movement since we declared impasse in May,” Quirk wrote in the update. “There are also bad faith defects in management’s bargaining tactics that are preventing us from reaching agreement.”
According to Quirk, the university attempted to strongarm the union by demanding that they accept the offer by 5 p.m. on Oct. 15 or forgo a $500 signing bonus for all eligible employees. McIver added that it wasn’t ultimately up to union leadership to approve an offer anyway, stating, “It’ll be our members who tell us, does this proposal meet their needs?”
While McIver acknowledged that she was encouraged by proposed improvements in job stability, she claimed the offer was intended to undermine their pickets.
“That proposal came on the eve of the informational pickets that lecturers conducted on Oct. 13 and 14 on all campuses, and so, to my mind, was a blatant effort to suppress participation in those informational pickets,” McIver said.
The union will attend a public faculty bargaining session for Nov. 10 on Zoom, where they will continue talks with UC Management.
“I’ll say that President Drake is not telling us that the university can’t pay us more. They’re telling us that they don’t want to pay us more. And at a time when the UC has received more than $2 billion in federal COVID relief and historic 5% increase in permanent ongoing funding from the state, and President Drake has just raised students’ tuition. We think that there is a serious responsibility on the part of the administration to make sure that those revenues that are making our university incredibly, incredibly prosperous, that they go to support direct classroom instruction and they go to further the educational mission of the university.” McIver said.
“We are ready to sign a fair deal, and we are calling strenuously on President Drake’s negotiators to bargain in good faith and to send us a proposal that we can live with.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Nov. 4, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.