UCSC lecturer Christie McCullen speaks at Thursday's rally on campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Higher Ed

Seeking more stability, better pay, UCSC lecturers inch toward strike after UC offer: ‘It’s not an adequate proposal’

Lecturers across the University of California system, including at UC Santa Cruz, organized rallies last week following UC management’s latest contract proposal. After reaching a bargaining impasse and authorizing a strike in June, lecturers believe the UC has more to bring to the table.

Members of the union representing University of California lecturers organized back-to-back rallies last week across the university system, including at UC Santa Cruz, arguing that the UC’s most recent proposal, issued last Monday, isn’t meeting their demands.

Leaders of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers Santa Cruz who spoke at the rallies at the Quarry Plaza on the UCSC campus said a strike is likely if the UC doesn’t change course. The union authorized a strike in June following a 96% vote from union members.

“There’s a very good chance we’re going to go on strike again,” said Josh Brahinsky, a union member and History of Consciousness Department lecturer, speaking to the crowd of more than 50 people Thursday.

The previous time UC lecturers went on strike was in 2002, in order to secure many of the contract rights they are currently working with, but after almost 20 years lecturers say those conditions are no longer adequate. Lecturers’ core demands are the same as what they were 20 years ago: increased job stability, salary increases and workload expectations.

Ryan King, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, said in an emailed statement that the UC proposal addresses the union leaders’ major concerns.

“We believe that this proposal is fair, equitable, and responsive to our lecturers’ concerns — and aligned with our shared values and mission as a world-class higher education institution,” he wrote in the statement. “From demonstrating flexibility to incorporating union feedback, the University has made good-faith, earnest efforts toward achieving a contract.”

The new offer would give lecturers an average 4.3% pay increase, with a wide range of increases depending on each lecturer, and it also includes an appointment system the UC says will give lecturers more stability.

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The starting salary of a full-time UC lecturer is $57,000. However, because only about 25% of lecturers are full time, a majority of them make significantly less.

“This is not your typical labor dispute that you experience in the U.S., which is, ‘you’re not paying us enough,’” said Mike Rotkin, former Santa Cruz mayor and a UCSC lecturer of 45 years. “These security issues go a lot deeper. It’s the right to have some reasonable treatment; we’re basically like cheated gig workers with Ph.D.s.”

Signs at Thursday's rally at UCSC's Quarry Plaza.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Job security at the forefront

For lecturers, turnover is tops among the difficulties they face. At Thursday’s rally, Brahinsky said about a third of lecturers aren’t rehired annually.

Currently, lecturers in their first six years of teaching — classified as pre-six lecturers — must reapply for their jobs each quarter. Once they have taught a class in the same department for six years, or the equivalent of 18 quarters, and undergo a performance review, lecturers are classified as “continuing” and are eligible for more benefits. For part-time lecturers, this could equate to 18 years.

UCSC lecturer Joy Hagen has been tied to the campus for over two decades. She earned her Ph.D. in environmental science at UCSC in 2008 and has been a lecturer at the campus since 2002. Her child is also in their fifth year at UCSC.

“I’m a mom, not just a teacher,” Hagen said at the rally. “I have a graduating student from the University of California, do I want this for them? No. Do I want them to have lecturers in their classrooms every single quarter? Heck yeah. Because those are awesome teachers. Those are the people that my kid’s gonna learn from. Those are the people who are going to be there for them in a crisis.”

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After teaching writing to engineering and STEM students for 16 years on a quarter-to-quarter basis, Hagen is now eligible for a performance review in the department. She has also taught writing in the writing program and for Rachel Carson College and is a continuing lecturer in those departments.

Under the UC’s proposed five-year contract, newly hired lecturers would be eligible for a one-year appointment in their first year. For the second year, lecturers get a two-year appointment, and for the third year, they receive a three-year appointment.

Under the UC’s new proposal, lecturers will be eligible for a performance review after their two-year appointment. Union representatives say this doesn’t address the overall issue because most lecturer contracts are for only one year and can be as short as a single quarter.

union organizer Jeb Purucker
“Now as we’re starting to mobilize, we’re starting to hit the streets and starting to talk to students, and we’re maybe thinking it might be necessary to walk off the job, the university all of a sudden kicks it into gear,” union organizer Jeb Purucker said.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I think the one- to three-year appointment structure is positive,” union president and UCLA lecturer Mia McIver told Lookout. “But the proposal contains many loopholes and exceptions. And so there are several mechanisms within their proposal, where someone would be entitled to a two-year or three-year appointment, but not actually receive it for various reasons.”

Hagen said the rehiring process lecturers face negatively affects students and the quality of courses they take at the UC. Systemwide, lecturers teach a third of credit courses offered, but at UCSC they teach more than half.

“I find it completely insulting to students,” Hagen said. “It’s one thing to throw teachers under the bus — and I’m not saying that’s OK — but it’s students who have an instructor who just barely has started thinking about their course and what and how to teach them.”

Teaching at UCSC comes with the added layer of living in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, and for Hagen, who took out student loans for her child’s college education and is still paying off her own student debt, the lack of security lecturers face is frustrating.

Jeb Purucker, a UC-AFT staff organizer, said the union represents about 350 lecturers at UCSC among some 6,000 it represents across the UC system.

The leaders have been negotiating with the UC for three years and the lecturers have been out of contract for two years, he said, adding that the sides have been in mediation since June, when they reached an impasse.

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“Now as we’re starting to mobilize, we’re starting to hit the streets and starting to talk to students, and we’re maybe thinking it might be necessary to walk off the job, the university all of a sudden kicks it into gear,” he said. “And starts moving on our main bargaining demands.”

When mediation is exhausted, he said, a fact-finding period starts. After a fact-finding panel issues a nonbinding report, the sides will reach full impasse, according to Purucker.

He says the union’s next steps are talking to students, gauging union members’ interest in striking and talking one on one with members.

“The UC’s proposal is nice in that they’re finally admitting that job security is worth giving us,” Hagen said. “But it’s not an adequate proposal.”