The United Automobile Workers Local 2865, which represents student employees, is currently in the process of contract bargaining with the University of California across campuses for more affordable housing, improvements to Title IX investigations and better wages. UAW 2865 serves both graduate and undergraduate employees, most of them teaching and research assistants.
At UCR, meetings between the bargaining unit and school officials took place on June 6 and 7. Testimonies and discussion were open to the public, after which the union bargaining team and school officials met in a closed meeting. During these, professors and students shared their experiences regarding issues such as sexual harassment and difficulties finding adequate childcare options for working parents.
“Title IX will never not be broken,” said Jennifer Doyle, a professor with the UC Riverside Department of English quoted on the UAW 2865 website. “Slowing down the grievance process until the Title IX investigation has been completed is an unreasonable ask of student workers. It exponentially magnifies the harm.” An article in the Daily Breeze reported that 113 sexual harassment cases occurred within the UC system between 2013 and 2016. These were only the cases in which investigations had been completed.
A recent petition by the union with over 1,000 signatures was put forward to the administration for consideration. “Students and workers across the UC face high rates of sexual violence and sexual harassment,” it reads, “and members of our union who have experienced sexual violence and sexual harassment report numerous unfair experiences as a result of the Title IX process.” The petition proposes ensuring timely responses to reported violence and regular updates after a complaint has been filed.
According to an email from the UC Office of the President (UCOP) spokesperson Stephanie Beechem, “UC is committed to pursuing contract provisions that align with the university’s systemwide sexual violence and sexual harassment policy, which outlines a transparent, consistent and (sic) process to ensure fairness in investigating and adjudicating such cases.” Beechem also wrote that “This policy was shaped with the input of student leaders serving on a presidential task force.”
The President’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault consists of several UC regents, campus police officials, school administrators, victims’ advocacy group representatives, Title IX officers and students. It was created in 2014 to conduct research on how to better respond to claims and prevent sexual assault and harassment in the first place.
Another concern raised by the bargaining unit is wages. UAW’s website says that “UC administration still believes 2% per year is an acceptable wage proposal. 2% is a meager $43 per month for most members, which does not even keep pace with inflation.” To solve this, the union proposed “wage parity with UC’s peer institutions and housing stipends” to keep workers competitive in the current housing market. The average salary for a UC Riverside teaching assistant is $1,959 per month, or about $24,000 per year.
The concern over wages and other issues is echoed by David Chavez, Recording Secretary for the UCR Unit and Bargaining Team member, in an email to the Highlander. “As of yet, the UC has fallen short on most of our demands,” he wrote. “They have offered us a 2% pay increase and not signaled any movement on increasing paid leave, affordable housing, eliminating the NRST (Nonresident Supplemental Tuition) and all campus fees, or improved childcare support.”
The bargaining is ongoing, but Beechem told the Highlander that they aim to “reach a multi-year agreement that recognizes the significant contributions that academic student employees make to UC by providing fair pay, family-friendly benefits, a safe workplace and good working conditions.”
Despite concerns over the administration’s efforts to address student workers’ issues, Chavez is hopeful about the future. “I think we have made some good progress since our session at UCR. I am optimistic in the sense that our members have a strong passion to fight for a just contract that supports student workers across the state.”
Editor’s note: A correction was made online to reflect David Chavez’s union title.