Q: Can’t RAs and GSRs already become members of UAW 2865?
A: While all UC graduate students are eligible to join UAW 2865, our Local only represents TA’s, tutors, and readers in collective bargaining. RAs can become members of the union and participate in its decision making process, but are not covered by the contract.
Q: Why are UC GSIs part of a union while GSRs are not?
A: The California Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) grants most UC employees the right to bargain collectively. However, UC may declare that student workers are not “employees” for the purposes of HEERA if they are working primarily for educational reasons, not for compensation. GSIs won recognition from the University after a decades-long fight in the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, the University still holds that GSRs are not employees of the University because we do not work primarily for pay, but instead to further our own academic interests. Only a change in UC’s policy or a change in state law would grant this right to GSRs.
Q: Is there precedent for unionized research assistants?
A: Yes. Some relevant situations would be the UC postdocs (UAW 5810) and graduate students at the University of Washington, where both TAs and RAs are represented by UAW 4121.
Q: If the law were changed and GSRs voted to unionize, would they join the GSI union (UAW 2865)?
A: GSRs could form their own union, join UAW 2865, or even join other existing UAW chapters. It’s all up to what GSRs vote to do.
Q: If GSRs voted to form a union, would all GSRs be paid the same?
A: It’s important to keep in mind that the whole point of unionizing is that contracts are no longer imposed unilaterally by the employer; instead, they are negotiated, and then ratified (voted on) by the membership. It seems unlikely that students would vote to impose a pay cut on themselves. It’s instructive to look to University of Washington as a concrete example of what might happen. Since unionizing, wages there have increased for all graduate students, but some departments still pay better than others. The Postdoc contract is an excellent point of comparison for what some parts of a GSR contract might look like. It sets minimum wages to levels recommended by the NIH and in line with comparable universities.
Q: What are some potential benefits of GSRs bargaining collectively?
A: Collective bargaining leads directly to stronger worker protections, rights, and benefits. Apart from increased salaries, GSRs may choose to negotiate over appointment security, family and parental leave policies, workload issues, and laboratory safety.