• What is the union?
• What is a union contract?
• How do contract negotiations work?
• Can international students participate in the union?
• What if I have a problem at work?
• How can I get involved?
• Can GSRs or RAs be part of the union?
UAW 2865 is the union representing 12,000 Academic Student Employees – Tutors, Readers, and Teaching Assistants – at the nine teaching campuses of the University of California. The union negotiates a collective bargaining agreement (contract) that sets out the pay and benefits and the rights and protections of every Academic Student Employee (ASE) that works at UC. Over the years, working collectively has won us many of the benefits we now enjoy, from a full fee remission (it was previously around 2/3) to the childcare subsidy.
A “union contract,” or “Collective Bargaining Agreement,” is the legal document that lays out our rights and benefits as student workers in the UC system (just like a contract you sign if you rent an apartment, or buy a house or a car). First and foremost, the contract is the document that both we and the UC sat down and agreed to, which says that we all (TAs, GSIs, Readers and Tutors) are represented by the union and that the UC has to negotiate with the union when it wants to make changes to our working conditions. The effort to negotiate the first contract with the UC took more than 10 years, in large part because the UC claimed that what a TA or reader or tutor does isn’t actually work – It’s just part of our “educational training.”
Each contract lasts for a number of years (both the union and the UC agree to an expiration date), and then we begin a new round of negotiations to update the contract. These negotiations are one of our major opportunities to come together across each campus and decide what needs to be improved in our working lives. For example, in the 2014 contract negotiation we won raises between 3-5% for the next four years of the contract, along with a host of social justice successes. In previous rounds of negotiations, we have won fee remissions, childcare subsidies, and access to dental and vision care as part of our health insurance. Other important articles in our contract protect against discrimination, ensure appointment security, guarantee medical and family leaves, and lay out a process for resolving workplace problems (the grievance procedure). Check out our history of contract bargaining for more information.
Negotiations happen between representatives from the UC Office of the President and the elected bargaining team of our local, made up of the elected campus Unit Chairs and Recording Secretaries from each campus. Of course, those are just the people who sit at the table—our bargaining strength as a union comes from the involvement of the membership as a whole. It is always possible that the UC will try to remove benefits through bargaining as well, which is why it is especially important for all members to be involved in this process.
International scholars have the same rights as US citizens to join and participate in the Union. In many years of representing international student workers at UC and elsewhere, no one has reported any complications in their status from unionizing. The UAW advocates for international workers to be able to freely choose their employment and opposes employer control over the H1-B visa. The UAW also advocates for international workers who choose it to have a pathway to becoming US citizens.
If you have a concern, problem, or question about any aspect of your work, you should contact the union to make sure you preserve your rights in the situation. One of the union’s primary functions is enforcing what we won in the contract, which means representing student-workers at all steps of the grievance procedure, including informal discussions. Remember that almost all grievances filed about workload concerns are successful, and can be filed through an expedited process that will ensure you get a remedy quickly. And you do not need to be a member to seek union help or file a grievance; anyone covered by the contract will get help.
Another reason to work through your problem with your union is that our contract is only as strong as we make it. If you are experiencing a problem, it is likely that other students in a similar situation have experienced it before you. If we stand up and say no to unfair working conditions, we ensure that students after us don’t fall victim to them.
Our union is stronger the more we participate. Contact your local campus elected officers to find out how you can get involved, or simply attend your campus’ next Monthly Membership Meeting to share your ideas and concerns.
Yes! All graduate students, including GSRs and RAs, can be members. The university, however, denies that GSRs and RAs are workers, and so refuses them the right to bargain for a contract of their own. The bad news is that when you are working as a GSR or RA, you don’t have the same rights and protections you enjoy when you’re a TA or GSI. The good news is that even when you’re not covered by the contract, you still have all the rights of union membership: democratic participation and a voice in your affairs.
The University once refused to recognize TAs and GSIs, as well. These workers won the right to a union through a massive system-wide strike across the UCs. If you are interested in organizing to help get the right to collective bargaining for GSRs and RAs, please contact your local campus elected officers to find out how you can get involved in our struggle to win this basic right for all student-workers.