Inspirational Letter to Davis Community

Dear UAW 2865 Members,

My name is Brenda Medina-Hernandez and I am a 5th year graduate student in the History Department documenting LGBTQ and Chicano Movement social movements. I am also the current Recording Secretary for our campus, meaning that I am part of the bargaining team, representing our unit at the table. But I have been involved in campus activism for about 4 years, with most of my efforts focusing on our union’s fight to save public education–a fight that directly affects graduate student worker lives and working conditions.

Over the last 4 years, I’ve witnessed our union transform into a force to be reckoned with. When I first became a volunteer for the union, our unit was virtually nonexistent, with only one of 7 positions filled. Today, our union has positioned itself at the forefront of the labor and student movement with recent victories that include UC-wide tuition freezes.

Indeed if you’ve read one of the many union emails, you’ve probably read something written by me updating you on the recent developments of our contract negotiations. We often frame these emails in the context of rank-and-file participation, asking you to be present at bargaining, to give us your feedback on the direction of the union, or by voting on major union actions. I can not stress enough the importance of your participation during bargaining. In fact, previous sessions at our sister campuses have shown that when we pack the room with graduate student workers, management has responded with concessions to our demands.

But beyond the superficial, I write to stress what is at stake with this contract campaign and why it’s important for us at Davis. This contract aims to improve our lives as workers in this time of austerity. As as grad student worker at UC Davis and an organizer for our union, I’ve witnessed our colleagues struggle to survive. Grad student workers in Sociology, for example, have witnessed their class sizes almost double in the last three years while their wages remain stagnant. I’ve spoken to workers who have been compensated as a TA when they actually should have been classified as lecturers. I’ve handled grievances where grad workers have been discriminated against on the basis of race, class, gender and sexuality–and in worst case scenarios, have been pushed out of their programs. In my own experience, I have found that living in Davis to pursue a doctoral degree has forced me to take on massive amounts of debt. If I was lucky, I managed to guarantee myself three TAships bringing my yearly salary to roughly 18,000 a year. But most of my colleagues have not been so lucky given that we are only guaranteed two quarters of teaching and one quarter as a reader. It’s common knowledge that the cost of living at Davis is exceedingly high, and yet every year as we bear the burden of being the front line educators, we barely make ends meet. As a daughter of working-class undocumented parents, I see no other way to institutionalize real structural changes that address inequality at the UC other than this contract.

Stressing the need for management to concede to our demands is not controversial. Management has unapologetically given themselves unprecedented wage increases never before seen in the history of the UC. The most recent example of this practice is the hiring of current UC president Janet Napolitano whose salary exceeds a little over half a million dollars with absolutely no background in education.

So as you enjoy your weekend, I urge to consider your participation and come to bargaining this Monday and Tuesday and sign up to give a testimony to share your experiences. You can also choose to simply be present in the room to show management that student workers are invested in this fight. Bargaining sessions will take place in the MU Special events rooms from 10am to 4pm on both days.

You can also read about the support that the Davis faculty have given us by reading this op-ed by Art History professor Diana Strazdes and this letter of support from the Davis Faculty Association.

Finally, you can help by speaking to your colleagues about the contract and organize your department to be present in the room. You can speak to your students about why this fight matters to them.

As always, in solidarity,

Brenda, Davis Recording Secretary