Another UC strike looming? Clouds gather at UCSC, elsewhere as lecturers authorize walkout
Nearing an impasse with the University of California system over wages and job security, non-tenured lecturers could go on strike within two to three months -- even as UC Santa Cruz and other schools are set to return to in-person classes.
After over two years of negotiations with the University of California, non-tenured lecturers across the UC system voted Friday, to authorize a strike — which could be their first in almost two decades.
Despite 96% of union members voting to authorize a strike, lecturers at UC Santa Cruz and other UC schools are not currently on strike. Here’s what must happen for a strike to take place:
4:58 PM, Jun 07, 2021This story originally misstated the nature of benefit eligibility for lecturers. It has since been corrected.
- Contract negotiations between the lecturers union and UC President Michael Drake’s office — which have been going on for nearly 1½ years — need to reach an impasse.
- A third-party mediator must be unsuccessful in aiding negotiations between the school and the union.
As a result, a walkout could come in two to three months and could affect a UC Santa Cruz campus still roiled by a strike by graduate students when the COVID-19 pandemic took instruction online and which is preparing to return to mainly in-person classes this fall.
Last week’s vote — which came 10 days after UC President Michael Drake announced a 3% wage increase for all non-unionized workers across the UC system — played out after a series of failed negotiations between the school system and lecturers who have gone without a contract for months.
Union leaders say Drake’s announcement was seen by many lecturers, who make a median salary of $19,067 a year, as a slight given that the UC has proposed a 2.5% salary increase for them.
“Our members are really riled up over it,” University Council-American Federation of Teachers Santa Cruz field rep Jeb Purucker said. “The UC has been stonewalling us on wage increases and is now very publicly telling all of their non-represented staff that they can have the raise that they won’t give us.”
Ryan King, a spokesperson for the president’s office, said university negotiators have offered lecturers substantial increases in job security and compensation.
“We believe that our proposal demonstrates our good faith and recognition of the invaluable instructional role lecturers play in educating our students,” King said. “The university remains hopeful that we can reach an agreement.”
At the most recent bargaining session between the University of California Office of the President and the UC-AFT, lecturers delivered their “last, best and final” contract proposal detailing their demands for increased job security, wage compensation and equitable workload.
If Drake’s office doesn’t approve the union’s contract proposal, negotiations will go into an impasse, during which a third-party mediator will lead discussions between both parties, enter a fact-finding phase, then present a recommendation. At the end of the impasse process, union members could decide to strike.
If past negotiations are any indicator of what’s to come, lecturers are not optimistic that the president’s office will approve their final proposal, and their move Friday to authorize a strike vote will allow them to strike immediately if an impasse is reached in a couple of months.
“I’ve been through this rodeo before with the years leading up to the 2002 strike, and it seemed fairly clear that it was the strategy of UCOP to push us into impasse,” UC Santa Cruz lecturer Roxi Power said, describing the last union strike nearly two decades ago. “Back then we were out of contract for two years leading up to the strike. We’ve been out of contract for a year and a half now. So, it does seem like there must be some deliberation about this tactic on their part.”
In 2002, the lecturers won a majority of their demands after a two-day walkout, gaining some of the most progressive higher education lecturer rights in the nation at the time. But now, almost 20 years later, lecturers say those terms need updating.
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Job security is a key issue for lecturers, particularly those who have less than six years of experience in the UC system and work quarter to quarter. These so-called “pre-continuing” lecturers often do not receive notice of whether they qualify to teach the following quarter until about three weeks ahead of time and about 35% are not eligible for benefits like health insurance and retirement plans.
This is especially common for lecturers that only teach summer classes, who are not eligible for any retirement benefits. In recent negotiations with the UC, lecturers demanded more widespread benefit eligibility among all lecturers regardless of how long they’ve taught at a university.
Lecturers also say they are not equitably compensated for the work they do. For example, lecturers shoulder much of the load of writing letters of recommendation for students across the UC system — but are not paid extra for the task. They are also not compensated for course planning, and very few have access to office space within their respective universities.
In a Nov. 2020 bargaining session, the UC president’s office introduced a 1-1-2-2 appointment plan, which would allow for a lecturer to be hired on one-year contracts during their first two years of employment, after which they would be eligible for a two-year contract. However, the proposal does not guarantee a contract will be renewed after each teaching appointment.
Though the 1-1-2-2 plan offers longer contracts for lecturers who are currently not guaranteed jobs from one quarter to the next — a move union president and UCLA lecturer Mia McIver said was a step in the right direction — the union says the plan does not go far enough in addressing lecturers’ overall job security.
And though the union dialed back some salary demands with the university system in dire financial straits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, lecturers believe the UC could offer more than the proposed 2.5% raise after seeing it give non-union workers a 3% boost.
UC-AFT has not received an official response from UCOP following the presentation of its final contract offer and passage of the strike authorization, and bargaining sessions for June have not been scheduled.