As far back as 1938, readers and TA’s at the University of California (UC) have organized to demand decent pay and a voice in their workplace. While the initial organizing efforts in the 1930’s were largely unsuccessful, ASEs across the UC system continued to organize for their rights.

In the late 1960’s, beginning with the TA’s in the Economics Department at Berkeley, graduate workers again pressed for union recognition. University of California, Berkeley administration argued that ASEs were not workers and hence could not bargain collectively and be represented through a Union. By the mid-1970’s, ASE organizing had spread throughout the UC system. At UCLA the newly formed Union fought back against cuts in TA positions. The passage of the Higher Education Employee-Employer Relations Act (HEERA) in 1979 extended collective bargaining rights to employees at state colleges and universities. This would provide a crucial opportunity for ASE organizing and set the stage for a lasting victory.

Through the 1980’s, TA’s and RA’s formed organizations within the University of California in Berkeley, Davis and Santa Cruz, and continued to fight for recognition by voting to affiliate with the United Auto Workers (UAW). By the mid-1990s, a majority of ASEs at every UC teaching campus had joined the UAW.

Several years of organizing and striking for recognition with the support of the UAW led to a strike in December of 1998 on all 8 UC teaching campuses during finals. The demand was simple: recognition of the Union. As a result of the highly successful strike, State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton directed the UC and the UAW into a “cooling off period”. ASEs went back to work with a University Commitment to discuss the issue of recognition at a later date. While the UC continued to maintain its position that ASE’s were not workers, the Public Employee Relations Board, which oversees HEERA, issued a new ruling on the subject.

Teaching Assistants, Associates, as well as Readers and Tutors, were all workers in the view of the Board. Academic Student Employees voted overwhelmingly for UAW representation the following year and then negotiated a historic first contract. The UAW Local 2865 was born. Since the victory at the UC, the UAW has helped other ASEs, including those at the University of Washington and California State University, as well as Postdoctoral Scholars at the University of California, to win union representation, making it the largest Academic Student Employee union in the United States.