Graduate Student Organizing Timeline


February 1, 1984

In 1984, California state assemblymember Tom Bates authored Assembly Bill 3251 that clarified the language of the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act.  It mandated collective bargaining rights for UC student employees by stating that graduate students were employees and not apprentices.  It further stated that graduate student unions had to be recognized by their universities. Members of the UC Berkeley Association of Graduate Student Employees (AGSE) met with Tom Bates, the democratic state legislator from Berkeley. 

Image Credits: [Jacquelyn Affonso / Daily Nexus / February 1, 1984]
[Affonso, Jacquelyn. (February 1, 1984). Bill Will Provide for Collective Bargaining. The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/w0892c12c]

 

February, 1984

In February of 1984, 1,300 UC Berkeley graduate students went on the first strike for recognition of their union, the AGSE. The union had filed unfair labor practice charges against the UC with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) in order to gain the right to collectively bargain. The unrecognized union had pressured the UC into giving small pay increases and improving grievance procedures. However, since the UC didn’t consider them employees, the graduate students didn’t have collective bargaining rights. The 1979 Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act declared that if a student was doing work that related to their career path, they were considered an apprentice, not an employee, and didn’t have the right to collectively bargain. This made it difficult to negotiate for benefits, smaller class sizes, or any other major changes. At the time of the Berkeley strike, 50% of TAs at UCSC had already joined a union.

Image Credits: [Bob Betts / Daily Nexus / February 23, 1984]
[Betts, Bob. (February 23, 1984). U.C. Berkeley Grad Students Fight for Bargaining Rights. The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/sj139291t]

 

May, 1984

In May, the bill failed in Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Hearing due to a lack of votes, but the AGSE was optimistic it would be reintroduced. The UC Director of State and Government Relations responded saying he thought the bill would create “adversarial relationships between students and faculty members.” A written statement from the AGSE stated that the “administration makes unilateral changes in basic employment policies, job categories and pay rates, often without any explanation, let alone prior consultation.” 

Image Credits: [Jacquelyn Affonso / Daily Nexus / May 25, 1984]
[Affonso, Jacquelyn. (May 25, 1984). U.C. Student Worker Rights Bill Defeated. The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/pg15bg03w]

 

1992-1993 – Multiple Strikes at UC Berkeley 1992-1993

Beginning in November 1992, over 1,000 graduate students at UC Berkeley went on strike after months of failed negotiations between the UC and the AGSE/United Auto Workers (UAW). The strike was widely supported by professors and undergraduates; 70% of classes were cancelled, only 2% of remaining classes could be considered “full.” Faculty members collected 600 signatures for a petition to support the union. Teamsters, truck drivers who belong to the UAW, didn’t make deliveries to UC Berkeley. 

Image Credits: [Charles Hornberger / Daily Nexus / November 20, 1992]
[Miralle, Anita. (November 20, 1992). Grad Students Striking at Berkeley. The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/ng451j57b]

 

USCS joined the strike in late November 1992. UCB and UCSC continued negotiations with the UC Office of the President (UCOP), but came to an impasse over collective bargaining rights. Members of the AGSE decided not to grade students’ work fall quarter, and to withhold grades until they reached an agreement with the UC. 70% of classes at both campuses were cancelled, and teamsters still refused to make deliveries. UC Davis and UC San Diego graduates protested in solidarity with graduate students at UCB and UCSC. At UCSB, the Graduate Student Association created a graduate student bill of rights. UCB continued to strike into the winter quarter. 

[Miralle, Anita. (December 3, 1992). Campuses Crippled by Striking Grad Students. The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/05741t00r]
[Miralle, Anita. (January 6, 1993). Renegade Sexists Studying in South Hall? The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/gx41mk23t]

 

December 2, 1998

December 2, 1998, was the beginning of the strike to obtain recognition for the Associated Student Employees union, which had affiliated with the United Auto Workers union. (ASE/UAW). TAs, graders, and tutors refused to hold sections, office hours, or grade assignments until the UC recognized their union in an attempt to prove that they are employees as well as students. Close to 60 TAs and supporters marched in front of Davidson Library. The strike was divisive among grad students, some were satisfied with working conditions, thought striking is bad for undergraduates, or didn’t trust the UAW. One graduate student commented that she was “totally taken care of” with “nothing to complain about.” It was equally divisive among undergrads, with one student commenting, “they should fire all the TAs and replace them with new ones,” and another saying that better working conditions for TAs means better education for undergrads. 

Image Credits: [Bart Agapinan / Daily Nexus / December 3, 1998]
[Webb, Kerri. (December 3, 1998). TA Strike To Proceed Until Demands Are Met.  The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/z029p595f]

 

February 8, 2000

During bargaining sessions between the UAW and UC, a group of concerned students arrived at the meeting.  Upon arrival, the students, consisting of three union-member graduate students and concerned undergraduates, found the room locked.  Frank Wilderson, the active elected bargainer, identified himself and requested access to review the documents and participate in this discussion.  He was locked out after repeatedly explaining the unlawful nature of this discussion.  They waited outside the building until the door opened and the members walked out without explanation or comments.  The students followed these members into the parking lot asking for explanations and demanding Wilderson’s inclusion.  They continued asking questions to Tanya Mahn, a member of the UAW, and followed her as she walked to her car.  One student stood in front of her car, demanding answers, and Mahn bumped him and another student with her car.  The two undergraduates filed charges for assault with a deadly weapon to the cops who later came onto the scene.  This opinion piece outlines the incident and is written by Jared Sexton, a member of the AGSE and UAW.  

[Sexton, Jared. (February 8, 2000). Bargaining Practices Exclude Members.  The Daily Californian.  Retrieved from https://archive.dailycal.org/article.php?id=1475]

 

2000-2003: UAW Contract Highlights

  • The UC recognized the Associated Student Employees, International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), AFL-CIO as the exclusive representatives for matters under representation for Associated Student Employees Unit
  • Fee Remission: by 2002, 100% of annual educational and registration fees were waived for graduate students with academic appointments
  • The UC outlined a clear grievance and arbitration process
  • Graduate student employees were eligible for Student Health Insurance Program fee waivers
  • Associated Student Employees (ASE) were eligible for modified duties/leave during pregnancy and childbirth. No duties were to be required of ASEs during childbearing leave
  • UAW agreed to no strikes or work stoppages that interfere in any way with the University operations during the life of the contract or any written extension thereof. The UAW could not authorize or condone any strikes, and employees who participate in strikes could be terminated
  • UC agreed to non-discrimination in employment
  • UC had to make a campus wide posting of appointment opportunities, including the approximate number of ASE positions by department for the following year
  • Training/Orientation was to be considered part of workload for the term
  • Wage increases of 1.5%
  • UC set maximum weekly workload of 40 hours for TAs

 

2003-2006: UAW Contract Highlights

  • The UC recognized the UAW-2865, which represented all Associated Student Employees at every UC campus 
  • The UAW could not authorize “sympathy strikes,” strikes in favor of other UC unions or bargaining units. However, individual employees could engage in “activities in sympathy” with other striking unions, but may not be paid in full if these activities interrupt their work
  • UC mandated maximum workload for six week summer sessions for teaching assistants
  • The UC must compensate and give fee/health care remissions (when eligible) to UAW bargaining committee members for two terms during which bargaining occurs
  • During ASE orientation, the UAW must receive ten minutes on the agenda 
  • The UC will deduct UAW membership dues/fare service fees from the wages of the graduate students and send them to the UAW on a monthly basis
  • Wages will increase 1.5% effective January 1st, 2004. 
  • Wages will increase 1.5% effective October 1, 2004 unless Senate Faculty do not receive a merit increase; wages will increase in an amount equal to the general range adjustments.  Undergraduate Readers and Tutors’ hourly rates will be increased to $9.83, and Graduate Readers and Tutors’ hourly rates will be increased to $10.35, plus any general range adjustments.
  • Wages will increase 1.5% effective October 1, 2005 unless Senate Faculty do not receive a merit increase. Wages will increase in an amount equal to the general range adjustments.  Undergraduate Readers and Tutors’ hourly rates will be increased to $10.42, and Graduate Readers and Tutors’ hourly rates will be increased to $10.98, plus any general range adjustments.

 

2006-2007: UAW Contract Highlights

  • Wages will increase 1.5%

 

June 27, 2007

At UCSB, TAs held a “Grade In” where they conducted work openly in the Arbor to show the excessive workload they received.  They held this demonstration while the UAW was in contract negotiations with the UC.  Bailey Clifthorne, the UAW president at the time, stated, “There has been an enormous increase in class size across the state, and it has become more difficult to provide quality”.  The new contract would focus on issues such as class size and working conditions, and the UAW/UC aimed to conclude contract negotiations by October 2007.

[Mullen, Jessica. (June 27, 2007). TA’s Hold “Grade In” to Protest Workload. The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://dailynexus.com/2007-06-27/tas-hold-grade-in-to-protest-workload/]

 

October 2, 2007

To avoid potential strikes from TAs, the UAW and the UC created a tentative contract that included wage increases, improved healthcare, childcare, and new workload protections.  Details of the contract were yet to be released until voted on by members of the UAW.  Negotiations began in March and avoided a proposed strike that would have disrupted undergraduate classes.  Erik Love, a UCSB TA, expressed mixed feelings over the tentative contract, saying “I’m upset that once again, the UC was resorting to its illegal tactics…but obviously, I’m happy about the contract and eager to get back to work”.

[Weinger, Mackenzie. (October 2, 2007). University Agrees to UAW Demands for Higher Wages. The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://dailynexus.com/2007-10-02/university-agrees-to-uaw-demands-for-higher-wages/]

 

2007-2009: UAW Contract Highlights

  • The UC granted short term family related leave due to personal illness, family emergencies, or birth/adoption/care of a child or family member
  • The UC granted paid medical and family leave for 2-3 days and unpaid medical and family leave for the period of time beyond the duration of 2-3 days
  • The UC granted long term paid family-related leave of up to four weeks for an ASE who bears a child, and up to two weeks for the serious illness of an ASE or a family member of the ASE or for the care of a newborn or newly adopted child
  • The UC granted up to three days of paid bereavement leave due to the death of a family member
  • Wage will increase 5%
  • The UC established a childcare reimbursement program of up to $300 per quarter

 

September 24, 2009

On September 24th, students, faculty, and employees from 10 UC campuses participated in a UC-wide protest against an approved 20% budget cut, a proposed 32% increase in student tuition, and a 4-10% pay reduction for mandatory faculty furlough days.  Several classes were cancelled as faculty members and students participated in the walk out.  Demonstrators chanted, “no cuts, no fees, education should be free”, and one group labeled these fee hikes as “twisted and racist”, as it would mean more low-income and ethnic minority students would not be able to afford tuition.  “A spokesman for the group Graduate Students of Colour said: ‘Students of colour are asking a crucial question: Why now, and why us? California’s population of college-age adults is majority black and brown. Whatever other reasons are cited, that underlying condition is left unspoken’” (The Guardian).  Over a thousand faculty members signed a petition proposing alternative sources of funding, including decreasing salaries of senior officials and education bosses and tapping into reserve funds.  

Image Credits: [Monica Almeida / The New York Times / September 24, 2009]
[O’Hara, Mary.  (September 24, 2009).  University of California Campuses Erupt into Protest.  The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/sep/24/california-university-berkeley-budget-protest]
[Wollen, Malia. (September 24, 2009). California University Cuts Protested. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/education/25calif.html

 

2009-2010: UAW Contract Highlights

  • No changes

 

November 23, 2010

A provisional contract between the UC and UAW consisted of “a minimum annual salary increase of 2 percent and the promise of additional increases, with a maximum 4 percent increase per year, if the state gives UC more money than it did in 2007”.  Members of the UAW were set to vote on the contract from November 29th through December 2nd.  Five bargaining members of the UAW wrote an open letter to UAW members urging them to vote no on the contract.  One of the organizers, Brian Malone, stated, “This 2 percent increase in wages compared to the projected 3 percent inflation rate over the next three years is equivalent to us taking a pay cut”.  He further stipulated that though there were increased coverage of childcare expenses, it was still not enough to cover the full costs.  

[Leveroni, Katie.  (November 23, 2010).  UAW Local 2865 Reach Tentative Agreement for Three-year Contract with UC. The California Aggie. Retrieved from https://theaggie.org/2010/11/23/uaw-local-2865-reach-tentative-agreement-for-threeyear-contract-with-uc/]

 

Brian Malone Interview: 2010 UAW Involvement

Brian Malone was a graduate student at UCSC who was elected into the UCSC UAW unit chair position in 2008/2009 and one of the five UAW bargaining members who organized the Vote No campaign on the 2010 contract.  In this interview, he provides critiques of the UAW, details on the structural takeover of internal party AWDU (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union), and his perspective as a bargaining member of the UAW.  

“…the critiques we had is that it was a very demobilized hierarchical union, like the sort of statewide executive board…it was very top-down…it was more business unionism type style than we would have liked”.  

“Again, the Santa Cruz members voted overwhelmingly against that contract and then they got

stuck with that contract. And I think that really made them angry. And I think similar a lot of people at Berkeley were upset. Like, wait. This is a terrible contract. We voted against it, but we got stuck with it anyway. And so I think that was. Yeah, yeah, I think that was agitational in some ways”.

[Malone, Brian, Personal Interview, April 29, 2020.  Link to full interview audio and transcript]

 

2010-2013: UAW Contract Highlights

  • University will send a notice to hiring departments reminding them of their obligations in relation to written notifications no later than April 1st
  • Each eligible ASE shall receive up to $600 per quarter or $900 per semester (double from last time) for childcare expenses incurred during the academic year.  Each eligible ASE shall receive up to $600 for childcare expenses incurred during the Summer session(s)
  • ASEs are eligible for UC retirement plan coverage
  • Eligible ASEs may participate in UCSHIP (UC Student Health Insurance Program) on campuses that have elected to participate.  Davis, Merced, San Diego, and Santa Cruz participate in the program, but Irvine and Santa Barbara are anticipated to join in August 2011
  • The University will provide 4 hours of paid release time (including travel) to attend a quarterly, system-wide meeting discussing health insurance related issues
  • The UAW will increase their electronic transmission of deduction information by sending an Excel spreadsheet to the UC every month 
  • Wages will increase by 2% from 2010-2011.  Wages will increase by more than 2% depending on the percentage increase of the State General Fund from 2011-2012.  The general range adjustment may not exceed 4%.  Wages will increase by more than 2% depending on the percentage increase of the State General Fund from 2012-2013.  The general range adjustment may not exceed 4%.

 

April 22, 2011

Brian Malone, one of the five bargaining members of the UAW involved in organizing the Vote No campaign for the 2010 UAW/UC contract, wrote an opinion piece on Daraka Larimore-Hall’s conflict of interest as UAW president.  He outlines Larimore-Hall’s current positions as UAW president and Chair of the Santa Barbara Democratic Party as conflicting due to the power he has to disperse voluntary UAW political action funds to California candidates.  This piece is written in addition to Malone’s critiques of the UAW, found in his interview here.

[Malone, Brian. (April 22, 2011). Daraka Larimore-Hall’s Conflict of Interest. Slug Organizing Committee. Retrieved from https://slugorganizingcommittee.wordpress.com/about/]

 

Daraka Larimore-Hall Interview: 2011 UAW Involvement

Daraka Larimore-Hall was active in the UAW Local 2865 for over 10 years.  He first got involved through the sociology department and became the head steward for the Santa Barbara campus, then the campus unit chair.  He was then elected to the executive board of the UAW and briefly served as the UAW president before being voted out in an internal election.  Though he continued his membership with the UAW, his leadership role within the organization ended in 2011 following the overwhelming election of AWDU members into power.  In this interview, he sheds light on his role within the UAW, perspective of the organization, and experience during the internal election process.

“…we were very focused on the nuts and bolts of power in regards to the University…like new activists, we’d be like OK, yeah, you want to talk politics and talk about the labor movement and how it’s going to change society.  That’s awesome. But we also have to go and go to the chemistry department and physics department and earth sciences and chemistry and talk to people who are not radical about why they should join the union.  And that was hard, exhausting work.”

“So so the AWDU campaigned on like, they get, like we could get better contracts by, like, being more militant and going on strike. This leadership works with the Democratic Party. And look, the President Daraka, he’s even an officer in the Democratic Party. That’s horrible. Like the Democratic Party hates workers, Occupy, militancy, blah, blah. And they just like went around, told everybody this. We were just so unprepared for, like, their use of social media, their, and really unprepared for, like, their dirtbag tactics”.

[Larimore-Hall, Daraka, Personal Interview, May 7, 2020.  Link to full interview audio and transcript]

 

April 27-29, 2011

The UAW Local 2865 underwent an internal election that resulted in a drastic change of leadership.  Those running for positions split into two groups, the Academic Workers for a Democractic Union (AWDU) and United for Social and Economic Justice (USEJ).  Negotiations for the 2010 UAW contract showed signs of internal conflict when five members of the bargaining team organized a Vote No campaign against it.  After this contract was ratified, this internal conflict solidified into two groups, AWDU and USEJ.  The members who made up AWDU were fed up with the bureaucracy of the union and wanted to establish a more grassroots, democratic, and bottom-up structure, while the members of USEJ were previous UAW leaders that named themselves in response to the rise of AWDU.  During the election process, the ballot count was abruptly stopped and resumed as a result of marches, sit-ins, and political pressure.  When the count was finalized, AWDU won all 10 executive board positions and almost 60% of Joint Council positions. 

Former UAW President Daraka Larimore-Hall participated in this election process and said, “it was like playing into all the anti-union stereotypes that are out there in the general public and everything.  It was really soul crushing”.  He describes their campaigning tactics as “just gross, very personal attacks”.  He said they created websites with photos of USEJ members photoshopped onto Ho Chi Minh and Stalin and spread these through social media.  He speaks more on the origins of the two groups as well as the inner workings of the UAW in his interview found here.

[City on a Hill Press. (May 5, 2011).  City on a Hill Press. Retrieved from https://www.cityonahillpress.com/2011/05/05/ta-union-election-turns-ugly/]
[Eidlin, Barry. (May 10, 2011).  Labor Notes. Retrieved from https://labornotes.org/blogs/2011/05/reformers-win-california-grad-union-election

Anonymous Interview: 2012 – 2016 Union Involvement

This anonymous organizer was hired as a “salt” by the UAW and involved in grad student organizing from 2012 to 2016.  In this interview, they describe their experience working under the recently elected AWDU caucus (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union) and the political culture within the UAW.

“When a union in itself is like a social service, a service that stands up for workers and for all people to have rights and to just kind of see it as a cash cow and disregard the fact that the union itself does good work by the fact of giving workers rights I thought was really wrong, and that really turned me off.”

“In the hard sciences, most of the departments which are bigger individually than all of the humanities combined, most had no representatives and they weren’t interested in changing it because they knew those representatives would not have the same political views as them.  So they would rather have no representation at all, which I would get if we were a political party, but we’re not.  We’re a union and we’re supposed to represent all workers and hear workers and hear what workers want…”

[Anonymous, Personal Interview, May 12, 2020. Link to full interview transcript]

 

May 1, 2013

The UAW submitted a document stating their initial proposals to Peter Chester, the Director of Labor Relations at the time.  The full document can be found here.

 

April 2, 2014

Preceding the UC-wide strike on April 2nd, the UAW filed multiple Unfair Labor Practice Charges (ULPs) with the UC for using intimidation tactics involving threatening an international student’s visa status and unlawful videoing.  “‘We’re striking statewide because of patterns of intimidation, threatening with arrests, threatening international students with the loss of their visa and threatening our members with firing,’ Malone said” (City on a Hill).  UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Davis, and UC Santa Cruz went on strike April 2nd, and the remaining campuses joined on April 3rd.  On April 2nd at UC Santa Cruz, police arrested 20 protesters for “disobeying police and continuing to riot” (City on a Hill).  Of those arrested were 13 undergraduate students, 6 graduate students, and union leader, Josh Brahinsky.  The arrests occurred early in the morning and by 10:00am, the crowd of protesters grew to 150.  At UCSB, UAW members were joined by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), undergraduate, and graduate students.  Footage of the UCSB UAW strike can be found at The Bottom Line and video interviews with protesters at UCSC can be found at City on a Hill Press.

Image Credits: [City on a Hill Press / April 2, 2014], [Clow, John and Cameryn Brock / The Daily Nexus / April 4, 2014]
[Escobedo, Joel. (April 2, 2014). City on a Hill Press. Retrieved from https://www.cityonahillpress.com/2014/04/02/voices-from-the-uaw-2865-strike/]
[Quiambo, Carissa. (April 3, 2014). The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://dailynexus.com/2014-04-03/tas-strike-in-response-to-unfair-labor-practices/]
[Ramirez, Brenda. (April 9, 2014). The Bottom Line. Retrieved from https://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/04/uaw-strike-ucsb]
[University of California, Santa Barbara. (April 2, 2014). Santa Barbara Independent. Retrieved from https://www.independent.com/2014/04/02/13000-uc-student-workers-announce-two-day-statewide-strike-over-ucs-intimidation-workers/]

 

2014-2018: UAW Contract Highlights

  • The University recognized year long appointments provide job security for ASEs
  • Each eligible ASE will receive up to $900 per quarter and $1350 per semester for childcare expenses incurred.  Qualified dependents include children in the custody of ASE who are under age 12.  Each eligible ASE will receive up to $900 per Summer session for childcare expenses incurred.
  • ASEs enrolled in self-supporting graduate degree programs are eligible to receive a partial fee remission that is equivalent to what they would receive in UC state-supported programs.
  • The UC and UAW will meet twice a year to discuss University-sponsored student health insurance plans
  • Upon written notice, the UAW can request two campus meetings per year.  Any issues that require altering the Agreement between the UC and UAW must be excluded from these discussions
  • ASEs are entitled to up to 4 months of unpaid pregnancy disability leave.  The University will maintain health insurance coverage for the duration of the leave.
  • ASEs are eligible for up to 4 weeks of paid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  ASEs will also be approved for up to two additional weeks of unpaid leave for baby bonding
  • ASEs are eligible for up to 4 weeks of paid leave due to serious health conditions.  This leave can also be used to care for or bond with the ASEs newborn child or a child placed with the ASE for adoption or foster care, provided that this leave is taken within 12 months of birth or placement of the child with the ASE.
  • ASEs will have access to spaces for lactation support, including expressing and storing breast milk and allow adequate time for an ASE to express breast milk.  If no reasonable space exists, the department/hiring unit will create a temporary space.
  • The University will engage in discussions with ASEs or the Union to provide reasonable access to existing all-gender restrooms within a reasonable distance to the ASE’s work location
  • Wages will increase 5% from 2014 to 2015, 4% from 2015 to 2016, 4% from 2016 to 2017, and 3% from 2017 to 2018.

 

June 5, 2014

Members of the UAW and UC negotiated a tentative contract that includes wage increases, increased child care subsidies, and better parental leave payment.  Union members had to vote to ratify this contract, which would replace the previous one that expired in the fall.  This tentative contract cancelled any potential strikes for the rest of the quarter, and the ratification vote was to take place on June 12th and 13th.  The former UAW president and graduate student, Robert Ackermann, stated, “This is a solid deal, in terms of wage increases and other economic benefits… it is not as awesome as maybe some members would like, but we do think it is a good deal. All in all, we are encouraging members to ratify”.

[Fernbacher, Max. (June 5, 2014). The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from https://dailynexus.com/2014-06-05/ta-union-cancels-strike/]

December 15, 2014

Jason Struna and Rob Ackermann, two union members with experience in UAW leadership, wrote an article for the Berkeley Journal of Sociology where they dissect the ideology of “social movement unionism” and how it relates to AWDU.  They compare the “old leadership” to AWDU, highlighting problems and solutions from both sides to draw out the efficacy of their leadership.  Their conclusion is that though AWDU had commendable goals, the results led to a weaker union through decreased bargaining power, increased contract concessions, and organizing delays.

[Struna, Jason and Rob Ackermann. (December 15, 2014). Berkeley Journal of Sociology. Retrieved from http://berkeleyjournal.org/2014/12/a-reality-check-for-social-movement-unionism/]

 

June 27, 2018 – Supreme Court Case: Janus vs. AFSCME

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Janus in that workers don’t have to pay “agency fees” to a union that bargains on their behalf.  The argument was that by forcing non-union members to pay agency fees to a union that may share different political ideologies, these agency fees infringe on non-union members’ free speech through compelled financial support of such political statements.  This decision gutted funding for unions because non-members wouldn’t pay the union, even if they continued to benefit from the union’s actions.

This ruling threatened the financial stability,  membership, and unity of unions.  TAs at UCSB expressed these fears in The Bottom Line article and prepared to take steps for the worst.  Since then, the UAW reported on their website that paid membership has continued to grow statewide, despite this court case.  In a paper focusing on public sector unions after Janus v. AFSCME, DiSalvo highlights the legislative follow-up by state governments in attempts to shield unions from bearing the full brunt of this ruling.  A majority of these laws helped push for increased membership and decreased dropout rates so unions could still hold onto substantial funding by paying union members.  

[DiSalvo, Daniel. (February 14, 2019). Manhattan Institute. Retrieved from https://www.manhattan-institute.org/public-sector-unions-after-janus]
[Matthews, Dylan. (June 27, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2018/6/27/17509460/supreme-court-janus-afscme-public-sector-union-alito-kagan-dissent]
[Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, et. al. Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved from https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1466_2b3j.pdf]
[Samaniego, Arturo. (February 27, 2018). Retrieved from https://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2018/02/what-janus-v-afscme-means-for-uc-unions]
[UAW. UAW 2865. Retrieved from https://uaw2865.org/about-our-union/]

 

September 14, 2018

Two graduate students and executive members of the UAW described how the recent UAW/UC Contract for 2018-2022 was regressive and prematurely ratified.  In terms of benefits, they said this contract had “stagnant wages, no housing reliefs, punishing concessions on international student fees…the 3 percent nominal wage increase barely keeps up with projected inflation rates, does not constitute a living wage, which is estimated to be $34,269 for one adult in Alameda County, and does not compete with GSI pay at peer institutions”.  There were some gains in sexual harassment protections, but the contract still failed to secure affordable housing, which was considered a priority by most graduate students, and held little to no support for international students.

In addition to the regressive nature of the contract, the voting process pushed for a rushed, undemocratic Yes vote.  The vote took place in summer while most of the workers were away when it should have occurred in the Fall when the union had a credible strike threat.  The bargaining team was explicitly divided about the contract, with 8 members for it, 7 against it, and one abstaining, yet there was no time for them to debate for something better.  The organizing staff also canvassed explicitly for the “Yes” vote by including pro-yes arguments in the email that contained the ballot while pro-no arguments were attached as an external link at the end of the email.  Overall, the ratification process seemed to push forward a regressive contract that diminished the credibility of a strike threat and minimized the power of the UAW.

[Phillips, Tara and Shannon Ikebe. (Sept. 14, 2018). The Daily Californian. Retrieved from https://www.dailycal.org/2018/09/14/recent-uc-student-workers-contract-is-regressive/]

 

2018-2022: UAW Contract Highlights

  • Each eligible ASE will receive up to $1100 per quarter or $1650 per semester for childcare expenses incurred during the ASE’s appointment during the academic year.  Each eligible ASE will receive up to $1100 for the Summer session(s) childcare expenses incurred during the ASE’s summer appointment
  • For eligible ASEs, the University will provide a Partial Fee Remission of $100 per quarter or $150 per semester to partially cover campus fees, effective beginning January 2019
  • If a grievance meeting is scheduled by the University that conflicts with bargaining unit assignments, the parties with the conflicts are eligible to receive paid leave for the time period in which the assignments cannot be rescheduled
  • Sexual Harassment: The University made a statement of commitment to create an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation along with a more in-depth definition of Sexual Harassment.  The University prohibits retaliation against or by ASEs.  After a preliminary assessment of the facts, a Title IX / EEO will initiate the Alternative Resolution process, which includes mediation, separating parties, providing for safety, etc.  If the Alternative Resolution is unsuccessful, the Title IX / EEO officer may initiate a formal investigation.  The University will implement Interim Measures for Complainants, which includes changing to a different workstation, schedule, work location, etc.  ASEs have access to remedies such as changing work stations, schedules, etc. The University will implement this remedy in an effort to ensure protection for Complainants/Grievants
  • The University will ensure all single-occupancy bathrooms designated as all-gender restrooms and shall list the locations of all-gender restrooms onto the campus website
  • The University will provide Reasonable Accommodations for ASEs who are disabled or become disabled and require additional assistance to perform their jobs.  This interactive process will be used to determine what reasonable accommodations are needed and monitor the efficacy of that support.  The University will cover the cost of a University-appointed licensed health care provider if needed for medical documentation.
  • The Union shall give a 30 minute presentation in conjunction to orientation for new ASEs.  Attendance at one UAW presentation is mandatory for first-time ASEs and salaried ASEs will have the 30 minute presentation count towards their workload hours
  • The wage range/rate will increase 3% from 2018 to 2019, 2019 to 2020, 2020 to 2021, and 2021 to 2020.
  • The University will include access to art/performance studio space in provided workspace and instructional support
  • No ASEs will lose seniority or compensation due to any legal changes to their name or social security number
  • The University will request federal immigration or Department of Homeland Security agents to comply with legal requirements before conducting interrogations, searches, or seizures while ASEs are working on University premises and under the University’s control.  If a validly executed Search or Arrest warrant is issued, the University will arrange for private questioning and notify the UAW of the immigration investigation
  • The University will provide for any ASE who was terminated because they are not authorized to work in the United States of America
  • The University will grant leave time for ASEs to attend any appointments and/or hearings related to immigration or citizenship status.
  • If an ASE is terminated because they are not authorized to work in the US, the University will meet with the UAW and make reasonable efforts to reemploy that ASE for the following term, provided the ASE has valid work authorization. If any legal changes in regards to these procedures occur, the University and UC will meet to determine if any changes are required
  • The University will provide a $100 lump sum payment for ASEs with 25% or greater appointments in the Fall 2018 Academic term.

 

September 19, 2020

Grad students at UC Santa Cruz began organizing to hold a Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) strike.  On November 7th, 200 graduate students marched to Kerr Hall to deliver a letter of demands to Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer.  They wanted to fight against the burden of increasing housing costs on low wages.  As stated in their demand letter, “UC Santa Cruz cannot fulfill its mission to produce outstanding research and to provide outstanding public education if its graduate students remain underpaid, rent-burdened, and economically precarious”.  

[Bay City News and NBC Bay Area staff. (December 10, 2019). UCSC Workers Withholding Final Grades During Strike. NBC Bay Area. Retrieved from https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/ucsc-workers-withholding-final-grades-during-strike/2193182/]
[Dent, Kyle. (March 5, 2020). The Fight for COLA: From UCSC to UCSB. The Bottom Line. Retrieved from https://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2020/03/the-fight-for-cola-ucsc-to-ucsb]
[pay us more ucsc. Campaign Timeline. pay us more ucsc. Retrieved from https://payusmoreucsc.com/campaign-timeline/]

 

January 22, 2020

On January 22, dozens of UCSB graduate students called in sick in solidarity with striking grads at UCSC. Nearly 150 grads and supporters demonstrated in front of Storke Tower and marched to the Arbor. The sick-out coincided with a UC Regent meeting where UCSC strikers met with the UC Office of the President. The sick-out was the beginning of the larger Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) movement at UCSB and drew attention to rent burdened grads and how their living conditions affect their teaching and research. The organizers of the sick-out, many of whom members of the UAW-2865, were planning to draft a list of demands in the near future.  

Image Credits: [Max Abrams / Daily Nexus / January 23, 2020]
[Kamidi, Sanya, and Jackson Guilfoil. (January 23, 2020). UCSB Grad Students Hold Demonstration in Solidarity with UCSB over Cost-of-Living-Adjustment. The Daily Nexus. Retrieved from http://dailynexus.com/PrintEditions/01-2020/01-23-2020.pdf]

 

February 27, 2020

More than 1,000 students and faculty marched from Storke Tower to the Mosher Alumni House on February 27, 2020, in part of the COLA movement.  Graduate students and TAs at UCSB have been facing increased rent burdens and housing insecurity and rallied a demonstration in front of Storke Tower.  This event was also in solidarity with UCSC, which began the COLA movement in September 2019.  Graduate and undergraduate students and faculty marched from Storke Tower to the Mosher Alumni House.  The UCSB4COLA Instagram has picked up over 1,000 followers, giving this movement a strong social media presence behind it.

[Gang, Jessica. (March 5, 2020). UCSB Graduate Students Strike for COLA in Front of Storke Tower.  The Bottom Line. Retrieved from https://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2020/03/ucsb-graduate-students-strike-for-cola-in-front-of-storke-tower]

 

Kavitha Iyengar: 2020 UAW Involvement

Kavitha Iyengar is the current statewide president of the UAW and resides on the Executive Board with nine other people.  She first took on leadership roles in the UAW in 2016 after several years of union membership. She ran for local campus leadership and then statewide leadership.  In this interview, she describes what drew her to get involved, the inner workings of the UAW, and the union’s challenges and goals moving forward.

“Over the last four years, union membership has grown; a lot more stewards and leaders are involved in the union.  And I think there’s a real sense among badged workers that when we come together, we can transform our working conditions.”

“I experienced a union…whose membership declined for about a decade and who kind of levels of engagement were pretty low in my experience.  And so, yeah, I feel like over the last few years, kind of everyone involved in the union has been really dedicated to rebuilding it and really building it up into a strong fighting union.”

“…one of the biggest obstacles is kind of rebuilding from a place of not knowing. Because I think a lot of us come to organizing because it’s, you know, part of the air we breathe for whatever reason. That’s because of the way we were raised or our ideological predilections. But it’s like something that we just think of as a common sense. And I think building that for people in places  where it hasn’t been for years is really, has been quite a challenge.”

[Iyengar, Kavitha. Personal Interview. May 11, 2020. Link to full interview audio and transcription.]


By: Jillian Wertzberger and Frances Woo

Anonymous

May 12th, 2020


This organizer has requested to remain anonymous in their interview.  They were hired as a “salt” by the UAW and were involved in grad student organizing from 2012 to 2016.  In this interview, they describe their experience working under the recently elected AWDU party (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union) and the political culture within the UAW.  They were interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.

Transcript

Ok, so just get started, can you give a little information about what your involvement was with grad student organizing?

Sure. I was involved in UAW 2865 at UC Berkeley and I was an undergrad, so I was a tutor and like tutors are part of the grad student union as well, and they hired me as like a “salt” to try to organize the tutors because the tutors had essentially no union presence at all. And I was like friends with the activisty members of the union prior to this so they kind of encouraged me to become a tutor and do that part of the work. And so I got hired by them part time for a while, I think probably like one year. And that was it.

OK. Yeah. And I just want to know a little bit more about like the different contracts that were struck with the UC, because I recently got into contact with someone else at the UAW about acquiring the contract negotiations. And yeah, he was talking about, like, how there are different ones for tutors, postdocs and academic researchers. Do you know a little bit more about, like, why there was like individual contracts for each group?

The postdocs are a whole separate local. They’re 5810 and they are separate partly because they just do totally different work, like they’re, they don’t teach, or like it’s when they are doing the GSR (graduate student researchers) job, they are not teaching. I realize that many of the same people work as GSIs (graduate student instructors), but in the GSI role, they’re not teaching and they have a lot of different things that they would focus on because they’re actually generally making a lot of money. They’ll make like 80 or 90 thousand, especially in the hard sciences, and are seeing this more as a career stepping stone, so it’s just like a different realm. That’s my impression of why it’s a separate local. I think it’s also a separate local because they did not like the politics in UAW 2865. And like I know that they were separate locals prior to this, but I think there is a real division between the political climate in those two locals, and that’s probably part of why it stayed separate. UAW 2865, most of the leadership is very consistently from humanities, even though most grad students are in science and engineering, and the GSR union is much more representative of the that. For tutors, we had a separate contract because tutors generally worked only a couple hours a week and were undergrads, not grad students, and had different demands as well, like really wanted a flexible schedule, more so than wanting sick days, for example.

Ok, cool. And what made you want to get involved with, like, student organizing?

Well, I was a socialist already and thought it would be good, and I was working as a tutor already anyways, also, and I wanted to make my workplace better.

Was it like people reaching out to you involved?

Yes, I mean, I was already friends with a lot of the leadership of that local. So I was just kind of hearing about it as it happened. Yeah, they encouraged me. They’re like, you sure you should apply for this job.

OK, and so what exactly was your role as an organizer?

Technically, what I was supposed to do, just act as a “salt” like, sign up new members from the tutors, try to get there to be like some interest in joining the union, and maybe ideally, I think they were hoping like some sort of a movement of tutors demanding whatever thing they wanted.

Did you feel like there was a lot of involvement, like from the other tutors that you recruited and signed up?

Some. I was, they they hired, like three of me. The other two were in humanities and I was in math, and it wasn’t, like, I would say out of the three, it did the best job, and I’m not saying that to brag like that was not really disputed because I signed up actual members and the others didn’t. But it’s hard with the math majors because they weren’t really super interested in it for the pay; it was more like, “we want to do this experience. It looks good on our resume. We want flexible hours. We’re only working four hours a week anyways”. You wouldn’t necessarily do that job if you were just looking for money because there were jobs that would have much more regular hours that you could apply for. So the union, and the union approached things like the leadership from a way that really turned people off. So, for example, they were like really gung ho of like, tutors need to be paid more, and like, just would not hear the tutors did not care if they were paid more and that this was not a relevant demand or, “tutors need to be salaried so they have sick days!” and they didn’t want to be salaried or have sick days. We liked having flexible schedules. And you can’t have, like, sick days and flexible schedules because if you want to change your hours every week, it doesn’t, you see what I’m saying? Like, there’s not a good way to write that into a contract. And people were fine with that. And then they would, against my advice, do things like host a union pizza party and let the bosses come in. And so tutors would show up and their boss was at the union meeting they had showed up to, and so, unsurprisingly, they were terrified and never wanted to do anything related to that again.

Mm hmm. Yeah. So when you say that you gave them advice in regards to, like the, what the tutors wanted, did you guys like, did you meet with, like the upper members of the union about, and like discuss those issues?

Within my local, yes. The whole thing was just being planned at the Berkeley level.

Mm hmm. And so I know that you were organizing between 2012 and 2016 is that right?

No, I think it was. 2010? No, I’m sorry. Give me a sec. Yeah, that’s right, ok, yeah, you’re right, you’re right.

That’s okay, it was a long time ago.

I’m like, what year did I…? OK. Yes. That’s it. 2012 to 2016.

So I know you were working when AWDU, like the AWDU party was in power, so how did you feel, like it, like how did you feel working under them was?

I originally joined because I was friends with like all the AWDU members through other political organizing, so I came in being like OK, these are clearly, you know, the right people, and then they would just say really dumb sh** like, sorry, but for example, they would literally say, “we’re joining the union because we want to take the unions’ dues and use it to do political work”, like, political work unrelated to the union. For example, like supporting, there was a big Black Lives Matter movement at the time, and I was totally a fan of that and like participated a lot and helped to organize within Berkeley. But I didn’t think it was correct to join the union to take the dues and direct it over to something else. When a union in itself is like a social service, a service that stands up for workers and for all people to have rights and to just kind of see it as a cash cow and disregard the fact that the union in itself does good work by the fact of giving workers rights I thought was really wrong, and that really turned me off. And they really would say, like, “we’re gonna take this money; we’re going to spend it on our activism stuff!”. And then, so that was my first bad taste, then they framed some guy for sexual assault, like, I cannot tell you 100 percent that it was a frame, but they would brag about the fact that they had framed it. Like this was not a, you know, under the table type of thing. This one girl said she got an email from someone who said that this guy had raped her 10 years in the past. She wouldn’t show the email to anyone. She would not disclose any further information about it. It was incredibly convenient because it was against someone who they had just decided that they didn’t like and wanted to get rid of, and so it was just extremely suspicious. And then ,just like shot down anyone who said stuff like “you don’t believe women. This is clearly, you need to believe in women 100 percent of the time, even if, like, we’re not even seeing the accusation”. So that seems super shady. And then they had this idea, like “militant minority” strategy of, “we’re gonna organize with other people who have political views similar to us”. And like, I’m a socialist as well, right, but I don’t think we should only organize other socialists in a union, because the great thing about a union and its power is that everyone’s interests as workers is united behind this organization, right, and so the goal of the organization should be to get all those people to see that, right, and to fight for these rights together, and instead, they would just kind of discard anyone who wasn’t super politically aligned with them, of like, “oh you’re-“, generally was like you’re racist and sexist, but really, it was just anyone with different political orientations, or who didn’t know things like they, they were the type where if you say “you guys” like to a bunch of girls, you would get like shut out forever, which discarded anyone who didn’t happen to have essentially a really powerful humanities education. And so they only had representation from select few humanities departments and weren’t interested in changing this, like. At Berkeley in particular, almost half of grad students are in electrical engineering. They had one rep and gave him no support. In the hard sciences, most of the departments which are bigger individually than all of the humanities combined, most had no representatives and they weren’t interested in changing it because they knew those representatives would not have the same political views as them. So they would rather have no representation at all, which I would get if we were a political party, but we’re not. We’re a union and we’re supposed to represent all workers and hear workers and hear what workers want, and so, yeah, I think that led to things like having a pizza party that led to tutors getting fired because they didn’t care about handling the actual work of a union. They were just interested in like having a rally or building a movement, and this side of thing, not that I’m against building a movement, but unions have a special power that’s separate, you know.

Yeah. Yeah, I didn’t know that-, so the tutors got fired after that, the pizza party event?

Yeah. Some got fired under different pretenses of like, oh, you know, we just, we don’t want you anymore, and one, I didn’t tell the union because he didn’t have papers, and he got fired because they were afraid that the bo-, my boss was afraid that the union would find out that they were hiring someone who didn’t have papers which we’re not supposed to do. And so, I don’t remember the exact details of this. He went to the pizza party. They didn’t like him any more because they thought he was pro union. They fired him and, like, rehired him two semesters later or something, but it just led to there being no trust in the union. Like, you wouldn’t go to a union event if, after the first one, people are fired, right?

Yeah. Would you say there was also like a lack of communication between, like the union, like, hierarchy and the other people that were involved?

Yes. Between the union hierarchy and its actual members, they really communicated only with a minority of people who they thought agreed with them politically. For example, they declared a strike, and like, I think I remember calculating, it was like five percent of grad students went on strike. And they didn’t mind that, because they hadn’t reached out or organized at all for the strike to even happen in entire departments. So their friends turned out from like anthropology or whatever, like those five departments, but like, there was no strike at all in chemistry, for example. And that was super regular, like some, a lot of people in the hard sciences didn’t even know they were in a union.

Yeah. So, also you mentioned that you were an undergrad, so I’m just curious as to what the organizing process was like while also being a full time student.

It was stressful, like getting hired by them was shockingly easy. I kept telling them, like, because I was getting paid more than I had ever been paid before, which was cool, like union jobs pay well, you know. I think I was making like 24 dollars an hour and my previous job had been like 8. And so I was like, hey, you should have like things you want me to do, but they were so intent on kind of following, you know, their own politics, which I respect, but they took it to an extreme of like, you don’t have to do the work, it’s fine if you have no results. And it kept being fine if we had no results. And like, like I told you, they hired three copies of me to do this tutoring “salt” job, and the other two never recruited a member. Like, they gave these people like thousands of dollars, and like, I like them. We were friends. I’m not saying this to say that they were bad, but just to say that this was really ineffective work. And then it was stressful because when I realized that I did not agree with what AWDU was doing, and I was the only one on campus in the leadership who thought so, so all my friends stopped talking to me, and they were all like 10 years older than me, and so it was just extremely intimidating.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So in regards to, like the community would you say it was like, pretty like isolating, and like political in people’s ideologies?

I’m sorry, can you answer that question a bit more?

So, like when you were working with people within the union and like recruiting people, because I know that you mentioned that a lot of people have a really strong political ideologies and kind of wanted to associate with the people that have the same views, so would you say it was pretty isolating in that way for other people?

Yes, definitely. Like, for example, I recruited a bunch of physics majors to turn out to one of their rallies and they came and they were excited at the beginning and then some of the leadership decided that they were going to, like, yell at the dean and throw trash at his office or whatever, which I’m not actually opposed to, like whatever, he’s a horrible dean, but it was just a bad move because it turned off all of these people that I had brought. And they didn’t care, because if you’re gonna get turned off by that, then you’re clearly a bad person and don’t deserve to be in the union. So in that sense, they were self isolating because occasionally someone outside of their political bubble would show up, but they would just get turned off like purposefully and shut down.

And were the protests that they held, like, did they correspond with the larger, like UC wide protests or were they individualized to Berkeley’s campus?

This one was specific to Berkeley, I believe. I mean, it was a ballot our dean, sorry give me a sec to try remember. OK, I’m not, like totally sure about this, but unless they coordinated something across Deans, which is possible, I think it was just at Berkeley, which is weird because they did do a lot of things campus by campus with no coordination.

So outside of like union contract timelines and stuff.

Yeah. Like lots of political organizing outside of union contracts and not unrelated always, but not using the union as a power source other than a list to turn out members to a rally.

And so since you were involved with the UAW from 2012 to 2016, what would you say was, like, the biggest, if any, like changes between that time period within like the UAW?

AWDU collapsed right when I was leaving. Like, their membership rate had just sunk and sunk and sunk, and they were doing nothing to recruit new members because they didn’t care if they did, so that changed, and then a whole bunch of other groups like them kind of sprung up across different campuses. So when I joined, it was like AWDU had just risen to power, and then when I was leaving, they were pretty much done. I think that was the main change.

Was there a new group that came into place?

Oh, there’s like a million different ones. I don’t remember the names of them. In Berkeley, it’s still AWDU people, I believe, or at least like AWDU friendly people. In San Diego, it’s like Power or something, I forget. It’s a lot of groups that are politically like AWDU, and some of them are weirder, like the Santa Barb-, no the Santa Cruz people are extremely like ultra left. Like the COLA thing they just did was an unauthorized strike that they did not consult the rest of the locals if they even wanted to do this or not, if we were willing to pay their legal fees when they did this, like if anyone else thought that was a good move. They just kind of went and did it anyways, and that’s like a continuation of AWDU type group over there, and then some are a little bit more reasonable now.

Are these AWDO-, AWDU type groups, like, organized, separate from the UAW or just like super left factions of the UAW?

Do you mean like if they have an official stance within-, like, can you clarify that question? I’m sorry.

Like, were they officially working with and like under the UAW or was it more of, like, like sort of a club organization, like outside organization?

Yeah, more club. Like, if you go to those meetings, I can’t guarantee because I haven’t been for a long time, but my experience was that you would see as many people who were not union members as who were even in the local. It was kind of like, a political organization that was infiltrating the union, is more how I would characterize, at least AWDU. And they hate UAW Internationals. They would definitely not call themselves like a faction of UAW

Ok, cool. So I thought I’ve gone through pretty much most of my questions, but the last thing I want to ask about was during 2014. I know there were protests like across UC campuses, and I know that there are 20 students that were arrested at UCSC, and I was wondering if that had any effect on, like organizing at Berkeley.

Do you mean the protest against the fee hike or the Black Lives Matter protest? Because they kind of overlapped timeline, timeline wise.

The fee hike.

OK. Those protests, even though they led to more arrests in Santa Cruz, actually started at Berkeley, and we did a ton of work for that, and I would not have called that union related. That was like a whole separate group. It began in Berkeley with something called the Public Education Coalition, which was an activist group that had many AWDU members. That’s where I knew them from previously. I did a ton of work at Berkeley for that, actually, and we organized that with mostly undergrad students since it was a fee hike that mostly affected undergrads, and then the union kind of came and was like yay, this is vaguely related to our contract, but I would not call that primarily a union campaign, the fee hike movement.

Ok. Well, I think those are all my questions. Are you okay with being cited and quoted on the website, which rather prefer being anonymous or is anonymous an option because of some I would love?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. Oh, yes, that would be great because they all hate me from back then and I kind of know that.

Yeah. I want to make sure that you can speak freely. Great. And so since this is like a quarter long project, our article will probably be up like towards the end of this quarter. But I can send you an email so you can check it out after. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

No. Thank you so much for taking the time to like hear that story.

Thank you for talking with me.

For sure.

Have a good day.

You, too.

 

Kavitha Iyengar

May 14th, 2020


Kavitha Lyengar is the current statewide president of the UAW and resides on the Executive Board with nine other people.  She first took on leadership roles in the UAW in 2016 after several years of union membership. She ran for local campus leadership and then statewide leadership.  In this interview, she describes what drew her to get involved, the inner workings of the UAW, and the union’s challenges and goals moving forward.  She was interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.

Transcript

So to start off, can you give a brief description about your position at the UAW?

Yeah, I am the statewide union president, so that means that I serve on an executive board with nine other people who were elected by members across the state. And I’m a grad student and a GSI at UC Berkeley.

Ok. So what made you first want to get involved with the UAW?

Yeah. So I got involved in 2016 when I felt like the left needed to build a lot more power to fight the forces against us. So that’s what made me get first involved. I was in my like second or third year of bad school by then.

When you say, like the forces against you, are you talking about, like, just the UC overall?

Yeah, the UC overall. But I think more importantly, in 2016, I was looking at kind of big right wing attacks on issues I care about, immigrants rights, women’s rights, economic inequality…seemed like it was going to vastly expand. And I think for us to kind of fight back against those conservative forces we need to have strong progressive institutions on the left that bring people together and to which we can have kind of real power. And so I yeah, that’s what made me first get involved, is that being involved in your union, I think is one of the most important things you can do to have kind of shared and big power.

When you first joined, were you like one of the general members of the organization?

Yeah. So, yeah, I joined my first day of grad school. I joined my union, but I wasn’t super involved or going to union meetings until,yeah, my second or third year. And then I, yeah, I started going to union membership meetings and then organizing committee meetings, and then I ran for local campus leadership before I ran for statewide leadership.

How do you feel like the overall, like, vibe of the community in terms of like being in meetings, like the people involved were?

Were? Yeah. So, I mean, right after the Trump election, a ton of people went to union meetings because we’re all, I think, looking for ways that we could come together and have kind of a way to collectivize our efforts. And since then, the unions kind of really grown over the last, now about four years, I can’t believe it’s 2020. Over the last four years, union membership has grown; a lot more stewards and leaders are involved in the union. And I think there’s a real sense among grad workers that when we come together, we can transform our working conditions. And I think we see a lot of that happening right now. We’ve seen that happen over the past few months. I think it’s a real testament to regrowing a union.

Yeah, definitely. So how do you kind of describe the UAW leadership crowd prior to, like you moving up in the ranks?

Yeah, I mean, I think there’s kind of lots of different philosophies for how graduate student unions should work and be run. I experienced a union that’s member-, that’s, that’s membership, whose membership declined for about a decade and who kind of levels of engagement were pretty low in my experience. And so, yeah, I feel like over the last few years, kind of everyone involved in the union has been really dedicated to rebuilding it and really building it up into a strong fighting union.

Yeah, definitely. Were there any changes that you like want to implement moving into your position as president?

Yeah, I mean, it’s really important to me that, like everyone knows they have a union and that they should be a part of it. And that being a part of it means not only kind of signing a membership card, that that’s a really important way for us to have collective power, but it means that there is like someone on the shop floor who identifies as a union leader, someone who is constantly talking with their friends about the union and is making sure that their friends are participating in union actions and efforts and kind of building that structure is kind of been on the top of my list of the most important things we can do, because, you know, to have a really strong and effective strike threat that can win the things we need, like an end to nonresident supplemental tuition, housing stipends, free public transit, which I think we need as part of a green new deal and abolishment of the title nine system as it currently exists. All these kind of really big, bold demands is going to take everyone coming together. And I think that takes building really serious and sustaining structures. So that’s kind of been one of my major priorities, is making sure we can build those structures. It’s also really important to me to get more international students involved in the union. It’s such a huge group of workers, are folks who come from abroad and face all kinds of discriminations in terms of visa, all kinds of discrimination in terms of tuition, like extra tuitions that folks have to pay simply based off of where they’re born. And I think it’s really important in order to fight those issues, to have lots of international students involved in the union to take those issues on. So those two have been really, those two issues have really been at the top of my mind, in addition to, I think, the third big one has been making sure that we have a real political presence in Sacramento. As you know, a public sector union, our boss’s boss’s boss is the governor of the state of California. And so it’s very, very important, particularly looking at COVID right now, that we have a strong coalition with other unions, both to fight on the shop floor, fight against the boss, but also to come together to make sure that the impacts of COVID aren’t on the backs of workers. And so making sure as a piece of that we have a plan in Sacramento to move bills effectively is very, very important.

And what would you say are some of the biggest struggles that you face trying to like get people together and organize?

I mean, I think the biggest hurdle has been just the fact that there was kind of years without structures in the union that really touched everyone’s lives. And so I think just like moving from a place where someone, like doesn’t know about the union hasn’t heard about it, no one and none of their friends know about it and none of their friends have known about it for years, has really kind of built a culture where people really don’t think of it as kind of the air they breathe or something that really matters in a daily material way. And so I think is one of the biggest obstacles is kind of rebuilding from a place of not knowing. Because I think a lot of us come to organizing because it’s, you know, part of the air we breathe for whatever reason. That’s because of the way we were raised or our ideological predilections. But it’s like something that we just think of as a common sense. And I think building that for people in places where it hasn’t been for years is really, has been quite a challenge. And then I think, you know, the other big challenge is that the University of California doesn’t want to treat us the way we deserve. Right. Like that is the other major, major, major challenge is the boss. The question is like, how do you transform the conditions of power to make the, cause the boss to care?

So right now, what are the kind of best methods are you using to kind of like, re-engage people and like we stimulate their culture of caring about the union and knowing about the organization?

Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a variety of tactics we take. I mean, running campaigns about issues that people care about I think is super, super important. And I mean, people are diverse. People care about a lot of different things. So I think it matters quite a bit to have campaigns running on housing stipends and housing issues. I mean, that’s a shared issue that clearly runs across the grad student workforce. But I also have a, we have a committee addressing issues of sexual violence and sexual harassment at the university. We have an international students committee that’s really working on these visa issues I was talking about, um, working on having kind of projects and programs that are really addressing all of those issues I think is really important so we have a way of talking to our co-workers that’s really grounded in something that folks care about. And then, you know, like raising the visibility of the union is always very, very important. And so making sure people kind of know it and see it, but I think kind of at root, the most important thing is identifying people who folks have relationships with because it’s all based on real relationships. That’s what organizing is, and so making sure that there are people who people have real relationships with, who identify and care about the union and identifying those people through kind of different issue campaigns and bringing folks into our kind of broader plan to win, I think is the whole game.

And how have you kind of seen the member engagement increase or just overall shift as your time as president?

Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve seen member engagement increase in a lot of ways. I think we’ve seen at least like and my experience at Berkeley is the most kind of specific, but I mean, over the past few years, I’ve seen more members involved and engaging in union democracy than I have in years. And, you know, we’ve seen member engagement increase in votes and in elections in the union. We’ve seen membership engagement increase in terms of like departmental engagement. We have people who identify as the union in their department and talk with their co-workers who come to union meetings regularly. And I mean, I think the kind of whole COLA movement, while really, you know, the union didn’t, um, organize the wildcat parts of it, I think is really a testament to grad workers coming together and kind of realizing our place as workers in the university and I don’t think that happens without a strong union existing and without kind of a presence of a union that helps people to think through our relationship with the employer as workers, not just as students.

Yeah, definitely, um, and so, yeah, can you give a little more in-depth information on, like, how the union is kind of working through both like the COLA movement and also COVID?

Yeah, yeah, totally. So our union has, the university filed legal charges against the union for supposedly organizing the wildcat strikes. And we have filed legal charges against them for failing to bargain with the union over cost of living issues and for unlawfully disciplining folks at Santa Cruz who were on a wildcat strike. So, you know, our union has fought for decades on cost of living issues. This is, you know, one of the reasons our union was founded in the 90s was because we hadn’t seen wage increases in years. Past living issues have been, you know, a big issue from the very, very beginning of our union. And just, you know, during our last round of bargaining, we tried to bargain over housing stipends and the university said housing stipends are student issue, not a worker issue. And that’s been really core to our nig problem in our union for a long time, is that the university likes to treat as students, not as workers. That’s how the university is justifying giving folks housing stipends at other campuses. They’re saying, oh, these, we did this for you as a student, not as a worker so we’re not going to do it through the union contract. And I mean, all of us in the union know that it’s better for it to be in a union contract. It meansbyou have rights; it means you have protections; it means that it can’t be unilaterally taken away from you. That’s why we want a union. And so there’s a really big issue with the university’s kind of position on this, that this is, my god it’s dark, that this is just a student issue. And so our kind of relationship with the kind of cost of living issues is, you know, run deep in our unions’ DNA for a long time, and right now is taking the shape of union members organizing around an unfair labor practice strike authorization vote, because given the university’s unlawful behavior, union members can decide to go on strike together. And because of the university’s failure to follow the law to bargain with the union about these cost of living issues rather than unilaterally implementing changes that we have no protections over. That’s something that’s, you know, an ongoing effort. And, you know, the kind of timelines and all the kind of plans around that totally transformed because of COVID. So the COVID-19 pandemic, you know, is bringing forth the worst economic recession I’ve seen in my lifetime. I was here, you know, have like…This is worse than 2008. And it’s, the unemployment rates are worse than the New Deal era, you know, or the Great Depression era. This is like really, really bad. And we’ve been working in coalition with other organizations across the state, across the UC, across the country, to call for no austerity, right, in the face of this crisis. We need to have fully funded public institutions. We need free health care. We need paid leaves. We need housing. We need to cancel rent. We need like, all like, it’s really laying bare all the ways in which our system is brok- is broken already. And it’s, like we need free child care, like all these problems that were like, problems before are just exacerbated now. And so I’m really looking forward to the opportunity this affords us to work together with organizations to get more bud-, bigger budgets from the state and from the federal government, to get more research funding, to tax the wealthy, to redistribute wealth in the state of California so it goes to the people who need it, so it goes to public institutions. And I think that’s really one of the major goals and opportunities we have right now, is to come together across all sectors and identities of the working class to really take on the like, right wing corporate forces that, you know, got me involved in my union in the first place.

Yeah, definitely. And can you tell a little bit more about how, like, communication is going right now, like across other collaborating organizations, but also like within the UAW in terms of like the executive board with the other members? And things like that.

Yeah. Yeah. So I’ll start from the shop floor and move up. So, you know, we have stewards in every department talking with their coworkers all the time about what’s going on. We’ve been having phone banks every day for a variety of reasons, to just like be in touch, check in with how things are going, make sure people are doing well, see if they’re having any workplace issues, and let them know about these broader efforts that we’re engaged in on a variety of levels. There’s also, you know, union meetings that happen on each campus every month, things like monthly membership meetings, committee meetings, et cetera. Our statewide leadership, in addition to our executive board, there are elected leaders from each campus who sit on joint council, that group just met last month or last month to talk about kind of how to orient our organizing efforts amidst COVID and these broader fights we find ourselves in the middle of now. And then we also have e-board that meets monthly to talk through our orientation and how we are collaborating with other organizations. I and a few other e-board members have been really involved in the UC Unions Coalition that meets every week or has been meeting every week now given COVID to talk about our shared orientation around demands of the UC, demands of the state of California, and demands of the federal government. So we’re talking about how to collaborate on federal funding like the Cares Act, but in the next stimulus round, making sure there’s lots of money for universities to get research funding, working with the state budget to make sure that the cuts to UC aren’t as deep as the state want. The latest projections I’ve seen are they’re looking at 10 percent budget cuts to the UC from its usual, from, in terms of its state funding, you know, like only, a vast, vast minority of the UC’s funding, like five to 10 percent comes from the state in the first place, but that’s going to be cut by 10 percent, supposedly. And so figuring out how we, you know, have a joint effort to push back against that, and then also really have a united front before the employer who, you know, historically, last time there was a recession, the cuts came on the workers’ backs, and that’s unacceptable. And that’s not the way we, it should go at all. And so we’ve been coordinating at that level. And then also working through coalitions with community and labor organizations across the state for kind of really bold demands around housing and full employment and health care and making sure that we have a shared strategy around like schools and communities first in the medium term, that we need to have a plan that surround reforming Prop 13 and taxing the wealthy so that we can fund things like our public schools with the moneys they deserve and having plans around the Rental Affordability Act so we can have the rent control we need so that the landlords don’t just get wealthier. So we’ve been talking about collaborating on those efforts and also organizing efforts around kind of shared corporate targets. And then we’re also, you know, in conversation nationally with academic worker unions across higher education institutions in the UAW, because the UAW represents eighty thousand academic workers across the nation. And then in conversation with workers who aren’t necessarily just academic workers, but other higher education workers at different universities about how we can have a national strategy around fighting austerity. But like that, all of that stuff only matters if the people at the gr-, on the like shop floor are participating and engaged in it, so that’s why it’s really important that we are building those structures I was talking about and having conversations with people every day to get people engaged in this fight. And so we’re currently talking about launching a big petition around not only our cost of living issues, but what it would take to have a really kind of just recovery and that that would include addressing our cost of living issues, making sure people aren’t laid off, making sure international workers don’t face xenophobia that is unmerited.

In terms of resources, how is it like organizing like these different levels of, like collaborations and organizing with, within the UAW, and also like all these outside organizations as well?

What do you mean by resources? Like how do we, like, divide energy between all of this stuff? Because like. Yeah. Yeah, totally. Right. Like the questions, like priorities and time and how we can do all these things.

Yeah.

I mean, like I said, the most important stuff is the shop floor organizing and so that’s where I think most people spend their time and effort. And there is a, kind of, smaller group of us between the executive board and the joint council who are part of these more like statewide national conversations and finding ways for our union to usefully plug in. But really, all that stuff is only meaningful if union members are really engaged and involved. So that’s where the vast majority difference time is being spent.

Yeah, definitely. Um, yeah. Well, those are all of my questions. Do you have any questions for me?

No, no, not at all. Yeah, I. Well, I guess like. So what else are you. Yeah. What are the other kind of moving parts for your like trying to do a deep dive on the history of grad student organizing?  So the way we were kind of like structuring it is we basically are going to like old newspaper articles and we also got access to the old UAW contracts so that we can kind of like point out like what advances that grad’s in organizing has made in terms of like contractual efforts and also interviewing, like old UAW members or grad students for their perspectives on, like, the fight. And also just like the inner workings of the UAW. So seeing how it’s like progressed at the years and like, well, parts of it kind of worked. What did it do that the overall, like, presentation of the information that we find is like a mix of providing a blueprint for future leaders, but also like recognizing that, like we have done all this work already, especially because organizing is definitely hard work and it’s super easy to get discouraged. But especially because, like for students that only go to school for like four years, it’s really hard to see like a super tangible change within that amount of time. So, yeah, just kind of like showing students that, like, it can be done. Like this is how much this is how far we’ve come. There’s so, so much more that we have to do. But we can get there, you know. Yeah. Have you been really good article that I like to show people? The history of our union is that S.F. Gate article about our recognition strike when we first formed our union. Six thousand out of nine thousand teachers going on strike together to win our right to unionize. And I find that to be a really kind of useful historical perspective on kind of like that type of power we have to build to really like the University of California.

Yeah, I’ll double check it out. Yeah. Yeah.  Well, thank you so much for meeting with me. And I if you like, I can send you an email and the articles up so you can check it out. Also, are you okay with being quoted in some parts of the article?

Yeah, yeah. That would be totally great. OK, perfect. Well, I hope you have a great day. Thank you. Meeting with me. Absolutely. Wants to be nice. Thank you. Bye bye.

 

Brian Malone

April 29, 2020


Brian Malone was a graduate student at UCSC who was elected into the UCSC UAW unit chair position in 2008/2009 and one of the five UAW bargaining members who organized the Vote No campaign on the 2010 contract.  In this interview, he provides critiques of the UAW, details on the structural takeover of internal party AWDU (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union), and his perspective as a bargaining member of the UAW.  Brian Malone was interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.

Transcript

Perfect.

So just to kind of explain a little bit about what I’m researching. So in light of the recent color movement, we’re kind of looking into the history of grad’s in organizing, and that’s in relation to UCSB and also just U.S. wide because it is covered UC-wide due to the UAW involvement. So to start off, I just want to kind of get a feel for what your involvement was in grad student organizing.

Yeah, so. This is all so long ago. So I have tried to bring some of this back in my memory, but yeah, it is. 2008 or 2009 was sort of the beginning of the budget cuts movement. So the first sort of big cuts from the state of California to the U.S. and and that, um, and there were a number of grad-there was a grad student organizing committee at UC Santa Cruz, UCSC, where I was as a grad student, that, um, got involved with that. And there was a big sort of March 4th was the big sort of day throughout the UC March 4th, 2009. I think it was. And, you know, we shut down the UCSC campus. And and and that was similar. So I was sort of I was involved with that as a as a grad student, a member of the sort of ad hoc we called the G SOC graduate student organizing committee. But also at that point, I had. I was also the unit chair for the UC Santa Cruz UAW unit. So I think I think I was elected that in 2008 or 2009. And so that was sort of concurrent. And. Yeah.

Ok, perfect.  So I just want to know a little bit more about what made you want to get involved, like in terms of GSOC and being the chair.

It was, um, I think a couple I mean, I wasn’t I wasn’t when I came to graduate school, I wasn’t particularly politically active. I wasn’t. I didn’t have a history of activism or organizing at all. And my sort of sense was, you know, I’m just here to keep my head down. And do you know my graduate work. Right. Like, get my degree and get out. But I think a couple of things changed. And one was, I think. The with the cuts and the way those. The way things were in my department and on campus, it was just so clearly unfair that I just sort of couldn’t ignore it like this was really this…It was a crisis in a sense. And so I sort of felt like, well, I can’t you know, I’d rath- maybe I would have rather not been involved. But but but this is happening. And if I can do anything to to to to push back against this, I think then I’m going to have to try. And I think part of that came also from a really remarkable organizer who was a few years ahead of me in the history department here, Sarah Smith. And she had been unit chair before me at UAW. And she’s just I mean, she’s always just been a really good organizer and she’s very good at bringing people in. And so she’s sort of you know, she would call me as the UAW unit chair and say, hey, this thing is happening. Will you come to a meeting? Hey, will you come to a phone bank? You know? And she’s just really, she was so good at bringing people in and recruiting people. And so, you know, I went to a few GSOC meetings. I did some stuff. I realized, oh, you know, I have time. I have some energy. I can put some some effort into this. And then after a while, Sarah was like, well, you know, my term as a unit chair is coming to an end. How…why don’t you run to do that? And so I think a lot of it really was, being invited in and recruited by really good, smart, strong organizers and activists who are already here and there was already a structure in place.

Did you feel like a sense of community within like the people that you were organizing with?

Yeah, I did. I think it was a really good group. And I still remember some of those first meetings and I didn’t really know most of those people, but I didn’t feel like I was sort of on the same, like, these, I mean, these were really politically active organizers, um, I was sort of like, I’ve never done anything like this. Why, you know, why am I here? But they were just so you know, I think there was a really good energy at that point on campus, like people were excited. People were, I mean, they were upset. They were angry, but they were excited about sort of getting together and doing stuff. There were sort of you know, we came up with a sort of a good plan of how we wanted to do things and yeah, it really felt, I mean, and then later in my UAW years. Yeah, I got closer to some of those people. And I mean, I’m still you know, these are some of these people are still my friends. Like, I still, you know. Yeah. There really was a community there.

Yeah, definitely.  And so based on just some of the research that I’ve done. Yeah. I read that during, like the 2009 to 2010 contract negotiations. You were one of the bargaining members of the UAW. So I just remember that you vocalized some concerns regarding the contract. So I was kind of wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that.

Yeah. So. There’s there was partly a history there, which was the UAW at that point.  We had really significant critiques of the UAW at that point, the sort of statewide UAW. And, and I mean, I think the critiques we had is that it was a very demobilized hierarchical union, like the sort of statewide executive board, they called the shots and they weren’t particularly activists; they weren’t particularly interested in member organizing like. It was very Top-Down. It was very top down. It was very it was more business unionism type style than we would have liked. You know, it was really, and I mean, they tended to really want to focus on pay, primarily, but they weren’t even very good at that in a sense. And the interesting thing is that it really was centralized at Santa Barbara. Like, that’s where the leadership really sort of had its iron grip. Meant a lot of them came from set. And I my understanding is Santa Barbara has really changed politically since. Which is amazing. But at that time, like there was this sort of cabal or clique of Santa Barbara, UCSB powerbrokers who were running the union and, and there was a lot of friction or tension between them and the Santa Cruz people. So my predecessor, Sarah Smith, felt like her hands were totally tied in trying to organize. The grad students at Santa Cruz. So she wasn’t allowed to actually even have email list of the members. Like all emails had to come from the president of the union. And, you know, and there is a story that Sara tells that, you know, she asked she request she had no power over her own budget. And so once she requested colored paper because she wanted to make posters for an event and the president denied her request because the president was afraid that she would use the colored paper to make unapproved. Posters unapproved. I’d like it really. It was really like this top down. The president of the union controls all the messaging or the president of the statewide controls all the messaging and, and so we found that very difficult to to mobilize and organize membership. And part of the problem with that is that, you know, the statewide leadership, the executive board and I was on the executive board for a while, they really they really didn’t want to pursue the kind of contract campaign that seemed like we needed to do it, and so I think one of the big issues with that contract campaign was that. It kicked off like a contract campaign, kicked off in like mid April or something. When Berkeley was already getting out for the summer and then the primary organizing for that contract campaign happened over the summer. While all of the students were gone and off campus. And the primary pressure that we intend that the statewide bargaining team intended was to put a bunch of names on, I think they called it a report card where it sort of hear our criticisms of the U.S.. Here are the things we want. Sign this. And so I spent hours that summer calling graduate students in my unit and saying, hey, would you sign your name to this report card, you know, and find they did. And then in like July or something like I they sent me a big printed copy of this report card and I had to go to the admin building and hand it over to whoever would come out the door. And there was a photo of it. And this was what we this union thought was pressure like this is what they thought was our lever of power, and it was. Wrong. Like, I mean, it was so not helpful. You know, and so and at the table, the U.S. was saying, we don’t have any money and we’re not giving you anything. You know, we’re not, you know. Well, we’ll offer you a point. Five percent raise it or whatever. I don’t know. You know, and and there were members of the bargaining team from Berkeley and Davis and Santa Cruz who were sort of like, you know, they’re not offering us what we need. Like the salary they’re offering us doesn’t even keep up with inflation. They’re not really giving us the other things we want. And we’re not putting pressure on them like this report card thing this summer. It’s stupid. Like we’re putting no pressure here. Like, the thing we need to do is we need to start organizing strike pledges like we need to. And. And, you know, and eventually it is. It’s really important, was really important for the UAW at that point to settle the new contract before the expiration of the old one. Like, they didn’t want to ever go off contract, but in order to strike, you have to go off contract. Among other things have to happen. So but they really wanted that contract to get settled by the end of September when the contract expired. Luckily, the U.S.’s offers were so bad that we didn’t manage to settle it then. But there was still a lot of pressure, like, no, we’re not going to do much more organizing. Come on, let’s get this contract settled. You know, and I think it ended up two percent raise or something, which wasn’t. I mean, essentially with cost of living, I think it was a pay cut and and the bargaining team pushed that through and outvoted those five of us who who didn’t like that. And in the last few weeks of the campaign, when it was clear that the UAW statewide wanted to settle this contract, no matter what, we get some of the bargaining team and particularly the members from Berkeley, we’re sort of like, well, we if this happens, we have to put together a vote no campaign and we have to try and get our members to vote down this inadequate contract. And so that’s yeah, that’s how that came about. 

Did was the UAW ever conspire with why they wanted to. Why they didn’t want to go off contract?

They had this you know, they had this. They have this cliche, this thing that they would say over and over again. Now that I think about it in it, it was just this phrase that they would say that it was almost like an article of faith, like it was a dogma. And they would say over and over again, our power is at its greatest the day before the contract expires and, and no one ever actually explained why they thought that was the case, because that also seems wrong like that. I don’t see any leverage there or not the kind of leverage that you can have when you’re out of contract and can start considering work actions. Yeah, it’s it was this point of pride with them that they always settled the contract before the expiration of the previous one. And I’m not. I don’t think anyone ever adequately explained to me why they thought that is the way they had to go. I mean, my speculation, like we would speculate that they didn’t actually want to like, it’s a lot easier to do it that way. Right. Like it it’s a lot simpler. It’s more sort of structured. You know, it and it and it causes a lot less trouble. You don’t ever actually then have to be, you know, I mean, there there are some boxes that open if you go off contract, but, you know, potential problems. But you know those you can negotiate around some of those. But, yeah, I think they just I don’t think they wanted the chaos. I don’t think they want to be uncertainty. And I think I mean, I also think they really weren’t that interested in any kind of work action. Potentially.

And when you reference them as they are you kind of referencing the executive board or.

Yeah, it would be the. So the. Yeah, it’d be the executive board. It would have been the international representatives. So that paid representatives from the UAW International who to serve are tasked with keeping the our statewide local on track. And then also the bargaining team, who, again, for the most part I mean, does are the campus leadership positions on each campus, the two. And so and for the most part, the executive board and the international reps kind of decided policy. The bargaining team sort of took their, took their, took the cue from them. So, yeah, yeah, that’s the they here.

Ok, cool. And then so when whenever the contract was, like ratified between the UAW and the UC, did all the members of the UAW have to vote to approve it? What was that process?

Yeah, they did. So they had to vote. Those votes are usually pretty. Pro forma, they’re used, but they just, you know, they usually don’t even bother to put much energy into turnout because I mean by the time the bargaining team big time. By the time a tentative agreement is reached, like everyone just wants to get it approved and done with. But then in that case, in that situation, we decided that our best option, that the two Berkeley reps and the two Santa Cruz reps and the Davis rep. We decided that our best option was to try and convince them, reship to vote it down. And so we actually did run a pretty, a pretty decent Vote No campaign. And actually the majority of Santa Cruz, the vast majority, voted it down, voted against it. I even think, although I don’t remember this for sure. I think Berkeley may have voted it down majority wise. And so statewide it passed because they ran up big totals down at UCLA and the southern campuses. But it really only passed right, as I recall, like 60 percent, which is pretty remarkably low, like most of the time, contract ratification votes like 97 percent. And so, you know, we didn’t win like the no vote. No campaign didn’t win. But I think it really did show that we had some organizing power, especially at the northern campuses. I think. And I think it made a lot of people mad, like the Santa Cruz. Again, the Santa Cruz members voted overwhelmingly against that contract and then they got stuck with that contract. And I think that really made them angry. And I think similar a lot of people at Berkeley were upset. Like, wait. This is a terrible contract. We voted against it, but we got stuck with it anyway. And so I think that was. Yeah, yeah, I think that was agitational in some ways.

Was there did the UAW ever address the fact that, like, the majority is in person? Berkeley voted no.

No. No. No, I’m not positive. Berkeley had a majority, but it was close. And those numbers must be somewhere. But I know Santa Cruz was. No, I mean, they they you know, they had a press release where they trumpeted, you know, contract passes by by 20 percent, you know, because it was 60 to 40. Right. And so it was, you know, 20. You know, they had a big trumpeting press release. And they and then we all sort of ignored each other for a few months. Yeah, I mean, then we all sort of never talk to each other again. Well, because that was sort of it turned out that was the first first sort of skirmish then, because then the following year in 2011 was the UAW elections. And so all the positions, the leadership on the campus and the executive board were all up. And so the vote now was actually sort of the catalyst for a lot of us, especially in the North, to say we have to take over the union, like we have to win those seats, like we have to have a campaign. Like the next step now that we’re stuck with this contract is to change the leadership so that the next time contract comes up. We do this right.

So do you think the change in leadership kind of helped push the UAW into more progressive direction?

Yeah, I mean, I think when I mean. I think when, when, AWDU academic workers for Democratic Union. When that organization when we won the UAW elections and took over the statewide, you know, I think one thing that happened is and part of the platform was to give campus autonomy. So like campus leaders got access to their e-mail lists, like they could email their members, like they could organize their members and however they saw fit and. You know, there wasn’t as much top down messaging like, OK. This is, you know, it was so much more collaborative. Bottom up. But then, I mean, I think really clearly going into the next contract campaign, which was, I guess three years after that, four years after 2014? Yeah, I think it was. It was run totally differently. So, you know, the statewide. For one thing, bargaining was run differently. Like when I sat through bargaining in two thousand nine and 10, like the bargaining team, we would sit in a room. We would never actually go see any of the U.S. negotiators. Like like the international rep would, like come into the room and say, this is what the U.S. saying. I think we should say this. And then we will be like, yes, OK. And then he’d go back and negotiate behind the scenes, you know? It was all behind closed doors. We never actually really had any participation in it. And by the next contract, that was totally different. Bargaining was open. So opening bargaining. And it wasn’t just all the bargaining team members were there. It was any number who wanted to come could come. And I you know, I was by then, I wasn’t unit chair anymore. But they actually did hire me to organize for a couple of those quarters, and part of my organization would be organizing people to come to these opening bargaining and have the members show up and tell you see what they wanted and see the horrible things the U.S. was saying, you know? And then I think we also really organized actions on the ground. So when bargaining came to the various camp, you know, that was another thing. Bargaining used to would often take place off campus, but when audiogram bargaining, they had to come onto campus and then we would have our members show up and, you know, demonstrate outside or march, you know, and show power in numbers and show mobilization. And also, as I recall, we left that contract expire. And we I think we we had an we had several strikes. We had a U all peace strike, you know, and a part of my organizing. Then when I was on the payroll to organize, then, you know, was organizing for that strike and getting students to turn out for that strike and and not cross the picket line. And so I think we did a lot. We mobilized and organized the members. We went past contract expiration. We really made it very unpleasant for the U.S., like very unpleasant for them. And I think in the end, we got a better contract then than we would have gotten like actually, I think a really good contract, as I recall. I don’t remember the numbers, but the raises were better than than had previously happened then. My understanding then is this last contract, things kind of went bad. But I was already gone from the U.S. at that point. So, yeah, I don’t know what happened there.

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s like another thing that I’m curious about. So like, I’m going to be interviewing more like UAW members regarding that. But so I think those are the majority of the questions that I’ve had. I think one for one those. What is your opinion on the current COLA movement? And kind of like why do you think it emerged even with, like, all of our negotiations with the UAW or.

So this is from this is from a bit of a distance because, I mean, I still live in Santa Cruz, but I don’t teach it at UCSC anymore. Most of my friends and connections there have moved on. And so, you know, I’ve gotten some updates. I run into people around town sometimes. And, you know, I see stuff on Instagram. I mean, I’m all for the COLA movement. I’m excited about it. I think it’s really exciting. I think. I mean, I think. I think part of. My understanding, and again, this may be imperfect, is that the most recent UAW leadership has been a bit more cautious and maybe agreed to a contract that not everyone was very happy about. And I think one of the things that may have activated again was this sort of Santa Cruz resentment because we are such a small union or a small unit within the broader UAW. And we don’t I mean, you know, 10 years ago, we didn’t feel like our concerns were being taken seriously, like we were being paid attention to by the bigger unions. Like we just sort of got dragged along. And I think there’s there are things. I think it’s really hard to be a grad student in Santa Cruz and I imagine in Santa Barbara as well. Right. Like cost of living is terrible. It’s not, you know, even though it’s a small town. We don’t maybe sort of feel like we get the respect and prestige that, you know, the Berkeley and UCLAs do. And I think. And so I do think that. It sounds to me like dissatisfa- I mean, I think just general grad student dissatisfaction has been building at Santa Cruz is the place gets more expensive and and all of that. But I think it seems that that they felt like the UAW leadership wasn’t taking them seriously, wasn’t giving them what they needed, wasn’t bargaining the kinds of contracts they needed. And so they sort of felt like, you know, this is we’re gonna take this into our own hands, like we have to like our union isn’t going to do this for us. And so we we have to do this without the union. Yeah. But again, my sort of outside understanding.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I’m going to of jump back just a little bit. But so during your time organizing, I was just curious like because I know you mentioned like their representatives on different campuses, but in your opinion, like how involved do you think, like grad students in general were with like the direct actions of the UAW? And by that I mean, kind of like in terms of contract negotiations, like how many do you think were like invested with and like aware of what exactly was happening?

I mean, that’s a good question. That’s a hard question. I think. I think before I think in the 2009 2010 campaign, not a lot, because essentially I think, the, the sense of the the idea from the statewide was, you know, let’s ask our members to do as little as possible, essentially, like let’s let’s call them and ask them to sign a report card. And that’s really all we’re comfortable asking them to do. So I think there was a lot of deep mobilized members then. You know, it’s harder to say in the next campaign under AWDU like what that looked like, especially on other campuses, because I was mostly just focused here, you know, but but, you know, we were turning out several hundred people at Santa Cruz for various things. You know, that was about, you know, when we struck, I think half to two thirds of our unit of our unit, actually. And I’m sure it was much lower at other campuses, which are much larger. But I think the mobilization was. Higher. I mean, again, I still don’t know. You know, I think there’s still lots of graduate students who don’t know what’s going on and don’t pay attention and do sort of keep their heads down and just sort of. You know, they’re there for them, for their degree. And so they aren’t. But yeah. So I think it’s hard for me to estimate.

Ok, perfect. So I think those are all my questions. Do you have anything you’d like to add regarding anything that you talked about?

No, I think I mean, that sounds about right to me. Yeah. Are you talking to other people from that from that old time era? Who are you talking to? Or can you tell me?

Yeah. So I’ve actually, cause most of my research has been going through, like old student journals and reports and stuff. So I’ve been like kind of trying to like track down people. And there was a grad school organizer. I think he went to UCSB, but he was also talking about like concerns regarding with the UAW, my contract negotiations in 2007, I think? And that was like one of the earlier contracts. So I reached out to him and we’re going to set up an interview to discuss what happened back then, too. And then I also have a couple of interviews with, like UAW leadership lined up just to kind of see what happened on their end. Yeah. Because there’s definitely like two sides to like what every like what happened during the time. I think the main thing that, like, I want to talk was not really about like the divide, but more so how, like, both groups are kind of fighting towards the same goal, but in like different methods.

Yeah.

Ok, cool. Thank you so much for being with me.

You’re welcome. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. It’s a fun project. Yeah. So I wish you luck on it.

Thank you. And also, I was just wondering if you perchance have any access to, like, pictures of any the organizing that you did during that time, if not a while ago?

Oh, I’m sure I do know somewhere on my hard drive that I do. I could glance through some of that.

Yeah. If you have the time and you can just send some over there, be great. But if not, that’s okay too.

Ok. Yeah. Yeah.

 Ok. Well thank you for meeting with me. I have. I hope you have a good rest of your day. Thank you.

Daraka Larimore-Hall

May 7th, 2020


Daraka Larimore-Hall was active in the UAW Local 2865 for over 10 years.  He first got involved through the sociology department and became the head steward for the Santa Barbara campus, then the campus unit chair.  He was then elected to the executive board of the UAW and briefly served as the UAW president before being voted out in an internal election.  Though he continued his membership with the UAW, his leadership role within the organization ended in 2011 following the overwhelming election of AWDU members into power.  In this interview, he sheds light on his interest in the UAW, his perspective of the organization, and his experience during the internal election process.  Larimore-Hall was interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.

Transcript

Ok. And then so to start off, I was just curious what initially drew you to the grad student movement.

Well, I’m very pro union in terms of my politics. And so as soon as I became a grad student, it’s clear soon as I was on campus site and sought the union out and joined and wanted to know how I can get involved, ’cause I think it’s politically and practically a really important thing to join and get involved with your union, whatever the workplace is.

Were you aware of them as an undergraduate student?

Yeah. I mean, I didn’t do my undergrad at UCSB.  I did it in Chicago, but, you know, the. But I was around in. So I grew up in Santa Barbara. I used to work for DSA along many, many years ago for the Democratic Socialist Movement. And so back in the late 90s, early 2000s, when the strikes and fights for recognition for the union’s recognition were happening, I happened to be back in the Santa Barbara and talked with some of the media. So I’d been aware of the struggle. It certainly was like a thing that was written about in progressive magazines and newspapers and so forth. So it’s something I’d been following and supportive of. And so I was excited to be able to be involved with it after it was established when I actually got to grad school.

Ok. What kind of progressive magazines and newspapers was it like, campus specifically? Or just like Santa Barbara in general?

No, neither. I mean, because it was a nationwide phenomenon, right, of this category of workers starting to organize again, I should say, in the 90s, because I don’t know how much of this you’ve been uncovered in your research, but, you know, there was there’ve been different waves of graduate student organizing going back to the, to the 30s at Berkeley.

Mm hmm.

So back then, the CIO days. And then another wave, like in the 60s, and at one point, there was a local union representing graduate employees. But just at Berkeley. So it was a long, it was a long struggle that a bunch of different steps to it and the kind of, like, big event, at least for the UC, right, was that recognition in 2000, or around 2000. And that’s where the union they, this was the largest group of academic student employees now represented by a union. It was you know, it’s the UC, the flagship public university system in the country, so it’s a really big deal. But it had been a long time coming, and so generations of graduate student employees had, and I still see this come up in left circles where people are like, oh, yeah, I was fighting that back when I was in graduate school in the 70s, but yeah, so. So I was aware of it. And so, you know, you could read about it in the Nation and in These Times. So certainly if you did like, less Lexis Nexis search that you can get a lot of stuff. And then there’s one of the organizers, UAW organizers when I was there, Ricardo Ochoa, who’s now a labor attorney. He, he wrote a piece for like the Public Employee, Public Employment Law Journal for California. And a very like a very academic law journal, I think it was. But he wrote a piece that’s like a whole chronological history of organizing at the UC that will give you a timeframe of like when the first locals were organized, when, when the affiliate-, exactly when the affiliation with the UAW happened, because I’m a little shaky on the dates. But all of that is obviously very accessible. And that’ll give a little bit of a counterbalance to like the academic articles that the dissident groups in the union have published over the years. Sullivan published in Santa Barbara. There was a people at Santa Cruz. And so forth.

And are those publications…So how exactly do those publications differ from Ricardo’s?

Oh, no, it’s just, it’s more so, like mand-, as you were alert-, alluding to, right, there’s always been like different philosophical strains in union, and like, one of the things that’s been a hallmark of the, like, self, self-proclaimed leftist radicals in the union is that, you know, they like to write academic theoretical articles about the union. So there’s like a paper trail of like that kind of thinking in the union, critical of the UAW, critical of collective bargaining, critical of, you know, mainstream political work, all of that. So, so there’s just been a bunch of those articles written in academic journals or left publications like, political publications; far fewer things published from the more, you say, institutional factions in the union. Because personally, I was, when I was a union leader, I was always very careful with what I would say about the union or write about the union. And I certainly wouldn’t didn’t even though I had my own critiques and my own thoughts, like my instinct or my my feeling was that that was best. Like talked about within the union. Let’s talk about it, work it out, you know, deal with it. Not like I’m gonna write an academic article and seem really smart about sh**ting on my own union. So that was always like a cultural difference between the two tendencies.

Yeah. Yeah. I’ll definitely look into that paper trail, because that’d be really a great resource to have.

Yeah, it’ll be good for underpinning if you do other interviews and stuff like underpinning things with the facts. Yeah. And let me know you can keep me up on Facebook Messenger. Whatever. Let me know if you’re having trouble finding them. I’ll help you find them. They’re all, they’re all going to be easy for you to track down with with your library access.

Okay. Yeah. Perfect. Thank you. And so can you just tell me a little bit more about, like, what your role was within the UAW, and like how long you served?

Sure. So I was active for over 10 years. So it was like, pretty much my entire grad school time, which was, you know, little on the long side, not unrelated to me spending a lot of time on the union and other and other political things. But yeah. So I got involved my first year in the sociology department and became a head steward for the campus. And then I was the campus unit chair, so like the lead steward on the campus, then was elected, some to the, to the like, the state board, executive board, and eventually was vice president, and then very briefly served as president before, like we were all wiped out in an election, like all of my generation of leaders in a really gross, like contentious election that taught me a lot about like some of the bad tendencies on the political left.

Yeah. Yeah. So that was another thing I was going to ask about, like the rift between like and I think it was USEG and AWDU, are there political caucuses that I can across. Yeah. So what was that kind of like, election process for you from your side of things?

Yeah. Well, I mean, so there had been pretty much the whole time that I was involved, there had been a kind of, like I said, a kind of informal political division that people, it wasn’t like hard factions, but at certain times it would kind of solidify into factions over particular issues, but it would flare up over a lot of symbolic stuff as well as programmatic things. But I’d say that the core difference was the, the institutional side or my faction or what we eventually called ourselves, USEG, though that was just really for that election. You know, we were very focused on the nuts and bolts of power in regards to the university. So very focused on staying at majority membership, which, for this bargaining unit, right, which has tremendous turnover just by nature of the work, was constant work. I mean, it was like as an officer, I was expected as a statewide officer, I was expected to spend over 20 hours a week on the ground signing up new members. And so when we would recruit new vol-, like new activists, we’d be like, OK, yeah, you want to talk politics and talk about the labor movement and how it’s going to change society. That’s awesome. But we also have to go and go to the chemistry department and physics department and earth sciences and chemistry and talk to people who are not radical about why they should join the union.  And that was hard, exhausting work. And on the other hand, you had people who were like, I want to be in the union movement because I’m a socialist and I’m a radical and f*** capitalism and I get to be in the trade union, which is awe-, great, like that’s fantastic. That’s why a graduate student from sociology or English or something might – and not to stereotype there were radicals in sciences, too, but fewer of them – but anyway, that’s a motivation they had for coming into the movement. But like there was, there was, there were real bureaucratic realities about how power relation works between teaching assistants and the university. And we just really emphasized that. So there would be flare ups about contract negotiations where, for example, they would always want to just like, come up with the perfect contract. Hold out for the most perfect language in the contract, and our thing would be more…let’s, let’s really concentrate on the things that are about union security and dispute mechanisms and grievance handling procedures, stuff that seems boring and bureaucratic. Because if you’re actively out in the departments, talking to the workers and filing those grievances, that’s how you build up a case in the next round of negotiations to like win more rights, or win more benefits, right, you can come in and say, now, we want really strict regulations on workload because, look, for the last two years of our contract, we filed 400 workload violation grievances, right. So it was like, always like our way of going about things was like building systematically and very much about “stay at majority”, and so forth. The other thing that we concentrated a lot on, my, my generation in the union, was always looking for new groups of workers to organize, so never being satisfied with like “OK, we’ve got the grad students”. We were always out looking to expand. So I was an active, like an organizer’s, temporary organizer on the campaign to organize the postdocs at the UC, which was successful. So we, we, and then like people that were a little bit before my time in the union, had done all the heavy lifting for organizing the union for, for teaching assistants at the CSUs, which was huge. So here we were like doubling and tripling the number of academic student workers organized. So we weren’t, it wasn’t our biggest priority to like have the kinds of like meetings and program that a radical sociologists would be the most interested in week to week. And like, if I had it to do over and looking back, we should have just should have been more flexible about this, given people. Let people start their committee on radical transformation of consciousness. Fine. You know, like one big fight we had internally was, I was, the you know, the left always really wanted a newsletter.  They wanted to write articles and it’s the left, they liked to think and blah, blah, blah.  So and like our reps are organizing reps from UAW were like very against that. They’re like “it’s a giant time sink; it’s not organizing anybody new; it’s not realigning power with university. It’s just like people spouting off”. But I saw that it was just like a really important thing to certain kinds of activists and they really wanted like a newsletter for people to read in their department. I mean, there were reasons for it. They wanted it. And it just seemed to me like an easy compromise to make, but we didn’t, and that became another like line in the sand that was like, “they won’t even let us have a newsletter”, and so forth. So this, it kind of came to a head in the contract negotiations. It was like the last set of contract negotiations in my tenure. We, and that was like we really definitely had like two blocks on the bargaining team and we –

What do you mean by blocks? Sorry.

Two factions, two groups, like these debates and these arguments that had been more informal and like I said, people kind of moving back and forth. As we started the bargaining process, they, people kind of chose sides. And, and so basically, we we we we came up with a contract or like we agreed to a draft contract to the university.  It was, in our mind, a very good contract, especially for, it was in the middle of the recession. Every other union in every other union in the UC system had given concessions of some kind. We had no concessions. We had wage increases. We had increases in rights. We had a family benefit, like a paid family leave and paid child care benefits for the first time ever in anybody’s contract like this. So we were really excited about it. But the radical side was like, we should have stayed out, gone on strike, gotten more, gotten an even more perfect contract. And we were like, this is a great contract for us to build on. It’s only two years. Let’s like file a ton of grievances, get to 70 percent membership, scare the f*** out of the university, and then we can, like, go at it again. But so they they actually started, this is was the birth of AWDU as a statewide thing, was to start a campaign to vote down the proposed contract. And so we really, so it was like the two factions went head to head in the election of whether to ratify this draft contract. And we won; the, the contract was ratified. But that, like, solidified AWDU as a group. So they started more and more campaigning. Then, the next year, Occupy happens, the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy L.A., Occupy campuses, occupy everything. And there was this huge, sort of swelling on campus of activism aimed at, you know, the budget cuts and fee increases and was very radical and, and then Occupy was happening and people were like coming up with these theories that if we Sit-In in this park for years, we’ll win, we’ll beat capitalism or something. And there was also this real ethos in Occupy that it was like, and this is like typical of what happens in the second term of a moderate Democrat president, right, is that the left is like, f***, we put up with all these compromises and sh** like f*** this, you know, f*** the Democrats. So so the AWDU campaigned on like, they get, like we could get better contracts by, like, being more militant and going on strike. This leadership works with the Democratic Party. And look, the President Daraka, he’s even an officer in the Democratic Party. That’s horrible. Like the Democratic Party hates workers, Occupy, militancy, blah, blah. And they just like went around, told everybody this. We were just so unprepared for, like, their use of social media, their, and really unprepared for, like, their dirtbag tactics. Like we didn’t expect them to do certain things that they did, like follow us around, our people around holding signs with completely made up salaries on them, saying that we made a hundred thousand dollars a year, ninety thousand dollars a year working for the union, and we were bureaucrats and all the sh**. I mean, like following us around with us, we were like, we are your fellow f***ing grad student – like why are you doing this? This is gr-, so and part of it was that a bunch of, not a bunch, but a few of the leaders of AWDU had gone into graduate school from the labor movement where they had been involved in some of the most vicious internal union versus union battles in the health care sector. So NUHW versus UHW. And that those battles were like, just vicious. I mean, they, doxing, name calling, calling management on each other, like just every dirty, dirty business fighting over who was going to control these contracts in the health care sector. So so, you know, these people had, like, learned how to do intra, like, intra-union battles that way. So they started Web sites where they were like photo shopping, our faces onto like Ho Chi Minh and Stalin and sh** and just gross, very personal attacks. And it won, and I learned, you know, like going up to UC Davis, where I’d spent a lot of time as a vice president of the union, going up there, filing lots of grievances, worked really hard on this grievance in the Spanish department where we won like every T.A. in the Spanish department thousands of dollars because there had been a systematic like breaking of the rules, and we went all the way to arbitration and it was like, I was a graduate student flying up to Davis, going through arbitration to win my fellow workers this money and all this stuff. And then I was going up there during the campaign and the and it was just like, the Spanish department all voted against us because they had a leader in, there was like a AWDU person there who went around with just the easiest narrative to say – “You know, how unions are corrupt and they always just support the Democrats. Well, we want a different kind of union. We want to be militant and radical and be like occupy and get rid of those bureaucrats.” People will like sure. Bam. It was like playing into all the anti-union stereotypes that there are out there in the general public and everything. It was really soul crushing. And it took me quite a while to recover from it, like sort of emotionally and psychologically. I mean, the upside personally was like, then I was out of the union and so I just went, concentrated on my my dissertation and actually finished it and graduated. So that was good, but it really sucked. I mean, it really was like, man, we are on the same side. We might have some differences in strategy and so forth that you just you took it to eleven, for no reason.

Yeah. Yeah, wow, I didn’t, yeah, I didn’t know how deep seated like the rift really was. But yeah, it must have been like a lot to go through.

It was among the elites, among us, the, among the leadership. It was really, really deep seeded, I think, among the membership. It wasn’t so much lamented. The membership was like… You know, I mean, one thing I learned in organizing in academia, right, is like the sociology of the department is so important. And there are certain people, graduate students in any department who are seen as leaders and other people who are not seen as leaders and kind of not respected, and so if one of the respected graduate students is like the union is good, it’s very helpful. Lots of people sign up. They’ll be like, this is a normal thing. This is what you do. If that person is like we do things differently in our department and we don’t need the union or the union’s not radical enough or whatever, that just like that becomes the conventional wisdom.

So would you say that like because there are so many different directions within the elites, it kind of like, pulled a lot of grad students in different directions?

Well, for sure. I mean, I think what happens afterwards and you can talk to people get their side of it, but from some sort of outside and talking to people who are still on staff, like what happened was the union became a radical activist left organization very quickly. So like right away, they started this thing of becoming pro BDS…right, and so and they took that vote to the membership. So the membership voted on whether to endorse BDS And you had all of these Jewish graduate students or other graduate students who were, you know, with particular ties to or sentiments about Israel being like, why is my union taking up this issue, like I’m for my union, I want better wages and working conditions in my, but like, why are we talking about Israel Palestine? So a bunch of people left the union because it won, of course, because the turnout was highest in the radical departments. And so, you know, the union became, so the union for teaching assistants and readers and tutors at UC, you know, gave its thumbs up to BDS, lost a bunch of members; Palestine didn’t get free. I mean, it was just, so so there was, things like that. And then it was just was like, “we’re radical; we’re left; we’re” so forth. So membership just went down. They stopped, the, like treadmill, tough program of organizing that we had just. That was brutal. I, and we probably could have done a better job of kind of working with, like working people into it, but like, but membership went into the toilet. And so then they had that like a long contract fight, like went to impasse, stayed out, went on strike, got a good a good contract as far as the contract itself. But they’ve gone so long without a contract that the wage increases that they got for the contract actually were less than what they lost by working with without the contract. So. But you really got the point that it wasn’t about that. It was about, we want to be in a union that’s on strike and that is militant. It’s like, for some people that’s awesome, and that’s what they want out of their union. But for most of the membership, you have to convince them to join the union because they’ve grown up in a viciously anti-union culture in the United States. And so getting that pr-, I would rather have 80 percent of the graduate students or teaching assistants, I should say, because it’s also undergraduates, readers, tutors…I’d rather have 80 percent membership of the people that the union represents than have 30 percent membership of the most militant, coolest, most down Marxists, bad asses. And that was to me what the, the split came down to. And so, so membership has been in the, in the f***ing garbage can for years now. And I think that my sense is that the newest group of statewide leaders have recognized that, or are trying to turn it around. I’ve had a couple of conversations with a couple of them. They seem like they’re trying to get things going. But there’s there’s like this, by the way, to sound like old guy talking to a young activist. This is like an iron law on the left, I think right, is like splits. So AWDU split, right? And there was like people that… So right away after they took power, they purged some people. And then there were splits. And so there’s like no AWDU any more, I don’t think there’s a new thing. But anyway, it’s like inevitable, of course, because once you, once you when your politics become how, how do we be the most radical and most left, like that is a unwinnable game. Someone can always be more radical. So the, yeah, it was, my understanding is that in terms of power, visa v. the university, the union went downhill and that was, that was our number one priority.

When things started kind of, like breaking up and like splitting up within the party, was there, because I know that a lot of their tactics were like spreading all these rumors and like information about members like elite members in the UAW. So was there ever like an effort on that side of things to try to explain kind of the process, or like the reasoning behind everything? Or like transparency?

Yeah, we, we f***ed up on that. I mean, that was like, we learned  too late the power of the email and social media, not that we didn’t know those things, but in terms of this election. We really thought that our very old fashioned, which I think in general is the best way to build that union, of going face to face, talking to people, was the most important-, was like the thing. So we just did a program of just having people out talking to people while they were just spamming and putting up, and like doing these blogs, like sh**ty attacking us blogs and so forth. And you just and we were like, that’s all lies. We don’t even, we’re not going to respond; we’re certainly not going to hit back. The other thing was that this was like a political question about constituencies. Their base constituencies were the social sciences and humanities in Northern California and the Northern California campuses and a little bit in some of the Southern California campuses. So at our bases of support, we’re like more in Southern California and like the not social science departments. But those members were not, they didn’t give a f*** about this internal thing, right, I mean, like, that was the thing was our base was not engaged and we didn’t do a good job of like we should have just gotten dirty and scared them. We should have played the other side honestly, gone to the, gone to the, to our base of members have been like these people, you will be asked to vote on BDS, if they win. They will turn the union into an activist, a small elite activist group, not a trade union. We should just f***ing hit them hard on that. We were way too like we’re just going to run on our record. You know, really trying to cover our left flank by talking about our our progressive politics, our radical politics. It didn’t work at all like, it was, maybe it was unwinnable because of the whole Occupy feeling. But we definitely did not run the campaign that we needed too. Looking back.

Yeah, I mean, it’s understandable too, considering how unprecedented it was.

Exactly. I mean, it was kind of like dealing with Trump. But, you know, we didn’t I mean, Hillary Clinton campaign was garbage. And I think she should, you know, like, hold her head in shame for the rest of your life because of that, but at the same time, nobody had a playbook for how to beat a Donald Trump. How do you, when somebody is just like, I’m just going to double down on being a dirtbag?

Yeah. Yeah.  And also, I just want to go back a little bit, too, in terms of my contract negotiations. So from like another interviewee’s perspective, they said that the UAW had like this saying that “Our power is at its greatest the day before the contract expires”. Can you explain a little bit more about what exactly that statement means?

That’s definitely a, was a tactical difference, and like a legitimate tactical difference of opinion, but yes. So the people who trained us, who had come out of the original fight, the original recognition fight, so, so this was another thing that was really annoying is that we’d actually built a culture in the academic student employees on the West Coast of taking people that came up in the rank and file and, and hire, and getting them hired as UAW international staff. So we were like running, so we all knew each other; we, we’d come out of the same kind of work. We had a similar kind of perspective, and so that’s why when, you know, when they were organizing in Washington, at University of Washington, we sent people up there to help them organize. They sent people down to help us organize CSU. We all worked together to organize the postdocs. We started to organize postdocs up in Washington, too. It was like, and it was very much like a program, a project of being like, if we build enough of these kinds of locals, we could take over the UAW region for the actual, for the whole UAW. And like build, and then even not be just organizing academic student employees. Let’s get in there and start organizing in aerospace and manufacturing and all the areas that the UAW like naturally represents but haven’t been organized. So but like, we weren’t gonna self marginalize within the UAW. And this is union politics 101. If you’ve got a plan in the union, you don’t go to the leaders and say, our plan is to keep building power and get rid of you and change the union. That’s stupid. You put a target on your back, they take you out or marginalize you. So we weren’t like publicizing on our website, “join us. We’re going to change the UAW; we’re, we’re like in conflict with the bad forces in the UAW”. That, that would’ve been stupid. So but like the our, the dissidents, the AWDU types, you know, they were like reading labor notes and all these books critical of the UAW leadership and thought the UAW leadership were all garbage. So they’re like, we should say that as a local. And so because we wouldn’t say that then they were just like, you’re just like them, we’re like this, that’s that’s little kid politics to be like, just say your piece. Like, look, strategic politics is, you know, build, build your, build your, your, your forces till you can win. Anyway, but that comes down, that, that plays down to how the international union was portrayed in our faction fight. So, yes, our international reps are the people who worked for the International Union, for UAW, but who worked to service our local had come out of this, they were former graduate students who’d come out of this struggle, who were big in the, the recognition fight, the original strikes, all of that, so, and what they had learned from being trained as a UAW organizer and negotiator is the UAW’s a playbook for negotiation, and it very much is, is on, is two things. One is, you know, really use the contract expiration date as, for leverage. And be like, and like build, build up so that you have a really credible strike threat, and the university knows you could do a really big strike and really hurt them, all the way up to that point, and then get the best deal you can at that point. And part of that is like building up, so second big thing, and this is a very public sector thing. This wouldn’t have, this wouldn’t work for GM, but for the public sector in California, it works that, that we were filing grievances, un-, unfair labor practice grievances all during the negotiating period to, because that’s the only legal way that you can go on strike while the contract is still in effect. So we, it’s like, you played soccer? 

Mm hm.

So, you know, how, like in good, aggressive, fast paced soccer offense, right? You, you want to, you just like really keeping the ball on the other side, on your opponent’s side as much as possible. And you move your halfbacks up and you move your fullbacks up, right, to keep it on the other side. And part of that is like, so you have scoring opportunities, but part of it is, what happens when the other team makes a fast break. They’re very likely to get offsides and then stop the game, right. So it’s a, it’s a catching them off offsides strategy. So we would do all these things to catch the university in breaking bargaining laws so we could file unfair labor practice grievances and then we could strike legally. And that was like, again, to show the force. So, yes, it was all like, build up the strike threat. Get the best deal that they can. And their argument, their philosophy was let the contract expire. Take a really long time. Build up a strike. Go on strike for a really long time. Get a bigger, get better contract and, and I just don’t think that’s true. I think it’s, that, that there’s a lot of wisdom in the idea that, like, the thing about a strike is its threat and that once you actually do it, you’ve sort of played those cards. The university knows how much real support the strike has, and then you’re in an attrition game. And, you know, like, it’s not that hard to break a strike by people who make very little money, whose supervisors decide over their entire academic future, who, you know, all those reasons, it’s, it’s pretty easy to get people to cross the picket line, unfortunately. So, so that was, yeah, that’s a tactical difference, but they made it sound as if there’s like a call from Detroit, from the head office to our bargaining leaders being like, you have to bargain this way, you know? And that wasn’t the case. Then the other like, hundred pound gorilla in the room right now, you know, from where we sit today is that the leaders of the UAW for our region, like so the people that I had to deal with in the International, like literally those people are going to jail right now.

Oh, for what?

Like, like f***ing the most egregious, like just corruption, greed, stealing from the union, like, the guy who was the deputy regional director. So, you know, UAW has these regions that are very powerful in the union, like in terms of the structure. So like the guy who was the number two guy in that region when I was active eventually became president of the UAW, which when I saw that happen, I was like, that’s not good, because it’s like the you know, it’s like the D-team, you know like, it wasn’t the B-team or the C-team of the leadership. It was like, oh, my God. So, yeah, Gary Jones. So he’s going to jail, and the thing was like, we knew they were terrible. We knew they were awful, and we never, but we also knew that the way the labor movement worked was you, if you have a fight, you have to g-, you have to win, or you die. It’s Game of Thrones, basically. So, so we just sort of like, you know, go along to get along, didn’t do them any favors or anything, but like, didn’t challenge them. So, but like, it wasn’t that hard if you were an AWDU activist to, like, see who these people were, see that we weren’t fighting them. Find pictures of us together at conferences and be like, look, they’re all the same. So they were able to paint us as, like an, like an example of bad, corrupt union leadership when it, when the fact was, like we were very aware of what was going on and how terrible they were and wanted to get rid of them, but we knew that to, you don’t get rid of them with a blog post. So that was the difference.

And also, I know you touched on this a little bit earlier, so when you were coming up in the organization, you kind of mentioned how there were like trainings with the people involved? So can you explain a little bit more about that process, and like the overall culture of people, like before AWDU and all that?

Right. So our culture was that we, if you were an officer of any kind, so a steward, the head steward, campus unit chair or secretary or whatever, or on the executive board, so a statewide officer that you were expected to go out and sign up members for hours a week. And it was like, you had, if you were paid, if you were in one of the paid positions, then it was like 60 percent of your time. If you were unpaid, it was still like our, our kind of like goal was like if you were a steward, you do six hours a week. If you were head steward you’d do ten hours, maybe a little off on those numbers, but there was, you know, that was the goal and the expectation. And that’s a lot. And it’s totally hard work. It’s not fun. It’s not like sitting in a meeting of people who all already agree. It’s having to have frustrating conversations with people making dumb reasons for not joining the union and, and having to like, play along, not just beat them in the argument because if you don’t get their card, you don’t get them to join if you just beat them in the argument. That’s, you know, it’s just like electoral organizing, lots of different kinds of organizing where, like you can, you can prove that the other person is wrong, but you didn’t get them to come over and vote for your guy, so it didn’t, it’s just waste time. So, anyway, so the culture was like, in that sense, kind of militaristic with a very clear hierarchy and a very clear set of responsibilities, and I think that was, it was the problem. I think the culture was too militaristic, but it came out of, it was developed by people who had come out of this existential fight for recognition. They knew what the university was capable of. They knew that the university was capable of, like manipulating GSA, or grad, or like dissident groups in the union and so forth to destroy our bargaining power. So it was a kind of tough, very tough minded approach, but anyway, but the culture was like, if you just, if you wanted to be a, get involved in the union, like, then, a more experienced organizer would meet up with you and go around with you in your department or somewhere and sign up members, and that was your first introduction. It was not a meeting. It was not like a PowerPoint about the labor movement. It was like, let’s go sign up people for the union. So, and then it was like, the trainings that we would have would be about how to better sign people up or how to do this, how to, and then, of course, like all the, and then grievance handling was a really big deal. So, you know, it’s, the union is responsible for representing anyone in the bargaining unit, so even nonmembers. You don’t have to be a member representing them in any kind of dispute with their supervisors. So that was a big part of who was handling grievances. And then we saw grievances, as, you know, not like a bureaucratic silly thing, but it’s like a, like a place where militancy and organizing could happen, because ult-, so here is another division that I found really interesting that would come up all the time, was like, and when it came to grievances, in a, in any grievance procedure, the grievance, the person making filing a grievance has to put their name on it, has to file it, has to be there. The union is just a platform, like it provides somebody there with you to give you advice, to speak on your behalf. It helps you fill out the paperwork, all of that. But like the worker has to stand up for themselves. And they always, the other AWDU always wanted to put things in the contract that would like not require a grievant to do that. So they’d be fixed, sort of magically and bureaucratically, that someone could go and say, “I have a workload problem”, and not have to confront their f****ing professor or supervisor. And it would just be fixed by the union behind the scenes, and that’s, what? You’re the militant radicals, but you want to protect people from having to, like, look their boss in the eye and saying there’s problem? Like, what is this? And it was really clear to us that it was like, these are all people who are best friends with their Marxist scholar advisors, and like, they don’t want to have to have those uncomfortable conversations, you know, and like whereas, like our rank and file, our, like the bulk of our members, were like, not the academic rock stars that were like kissing everybody’s ass. So our view was much more that they were workers. And in this scenario, they’re workers talking to their boss as equals. It’s not personal. It’s not because they hate their boss. It’s not an emotional thing. It’s just, there’s a violation of the contract and we’re going to fix it. So, so gri-, so training people to go out and aggressively find grievances, talk to people, ask people the right kinds of questions to find out if there is a grievance, and also convince people to take the action and file the grievance. That was a big part of the skill set that we tried to get our leaders.

Mm hmm. Would you say there was a lot of, like, mentorship, like when you would have, like an experienced person going around with an inexperienced person?

Yeah, it was pretty, it was programs. I mean, it was like, an intentional thing. People would be assigned to work with new people.

Did you see, like, a breakdown in this, like, sort of community structure once like people started, like, getting solidified in their own factions?

Well, yeah. I mean, basically from the contract, you know, the big fight that we had over ratifying the contract, to the leadership elections where we got smoked, like that period of time, we didn’t, the program was done because everything was factional. So everything we did, they were counter organizing. Everything was like, you know, it was all through that prism. It sucked. So from, basically our, that old really like organizing focused, professionalized, militarized kind of, discipline was already breaking down and it was just becoming a big, just the internal fight. And then by the time, like I remember talking to people like a year or two after, and it was like, even some ba-, like, people hadn’t heard of our database. And I was like, well, it’s in the database, right? And they’re like database, what? And I’m like, don’t you have it on your walk sheets? And they’re like, what are walk sheets? So, we spent a bunch of resources creating this database and of course, fighting with the university to get the membership, you know, correctly and in the right format, get the list of workers, but basically, we have this database so that, you know, every quarter, the list of workers pops into our database, it matches up the people that are already members, highlights the people that are not, and then, there’s a, you know, all these interfaces for organizers to go and find information about where those workers are, where their offices, or their office hours, if they have them, when their section times are, put it in there, and then you could print out a list for your day. And it was like, you know, Frances Woo is holding office hours at, you know, in the grad tower at 10:00 a.m., and then Daraka gets, finishes his section, his discussion section in music at blah, blah. And so you’re, you just go down and have those conversations and talk to those people, right, so it was like, and then put in what the response was and everything so that your supervisor in the union, like your head, your lead, could look at that and see how you do, but that, so it was disciplined. There was accountability. You could be fired if you weren’t doing it right. All of those things. AWDU people wanted none of that kind of sh**, like any kind of like oversight and discipline was, you know, bureaucratic and reactionary and authoritarian. And I don’t think they used that database ever. They really went to a model of, it was like, have department meetings, get meetings together, meetings, meetings, meetings in departments, have people sit and talk. And it was like, yeah. One of the things I’ve learned in the left is there’s too many f****ing meetings and we fetishize them.

And so after the AWDU elections happened, how long do you stay on with the UAW? Were you still a part of-

Oh, no. I was out. I mean, my, I was, yeah. I mean, I, I paid my dues. I was a member, but until I finished, until I graduated, but the, but in terms of leadership, I didn’t have any position.

Did you see any. I mean, besides them, like not using the database and like not having the same sort of like organized, like going out and talking to the people and things like that, did you see them implement any new kind of like guidelines for members or like what was, what did they do sort of as they took over, aside from just like-

What I saw, yeah, the things I saw were, so there was the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sactions) thing. There was the creation of a bunch of committees like the Social Justice Committee or like anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-oppression, that’s what they called, anti-oppression committee, yeah, a lot of committees, which is fine. And again, I, I’m self-critical looking back that we didn’t provide nearly enough space for people to do just kind of creative political things, and we made that too much of a zero sum with the organization. We should have said, yes, go do those things, but you have to work. So that was a mistake. And then, but, but it seemed like it just was all that, was just all meetings, issues not related to bargaining. And then the other thing that they did right was, which was good, like in the next bargaining camp-, campaign with the next contract negotiations, right, they really emphasized like trans rights and bathroom access, justice and things like that. And that is, the way that they emphasized it in the bargaining campaign was different than we would have for sure because we wouldn’t have, yeah, it was weird how they kind of signaled to the university that that was the number one priority when the university wasn’t really that opposed to it. So it was, I, the way they leveraged it seemed, seemed like it was very much about the internal politics of wanting to signal that certain issues were important to the union, but that was more about their own internal audience.

Interesting. OK. So I think those are a majority of my questions. What, in your opinion, was the strongest action taken by the UAW in the fight for grad students’ rights overall?

Well, I mean, I really feel like the most fundamental victory is just the existence of the union itself, and the fact that there’s some, something intervened to, to make rational and legal and, and visible, like, this power relationship between academic student employees and the university. And if you, I mean I think the, just you just talk to anybody who was in graduate school before unionization and, or talk to people that are in graduate school in unio-, in places without a union, you just, you know, the, the, the abuse is incredible. And the, you know, go get my dry cleaning, you know, go-, they become like little peons and serfs for their, their professor masters, and that’s like not right. So just being able to bargain over working conditions, being able to talk about working conditions as working conditions and not just the lumps you take to become an academic and the dues you take to be a good scholar, but you’d say, like no, this is exploitation. You’re exploiting my labor and treating it terribly. So just that fundamental change in the relationship, I think is the most important thing.

Yeah, changing the narrative, yeah.

Yeah.

And also, what is your opinion on the current COLA movements that are happening right now?

You know, I don’t have a strong opinion about it. It’s it’s confusing and concerning to me in that, like, it seems like another wave, like the current leadership is being flanked by the left and attacked. And so, you know, my immediate-, having my trauma and my experience, my immediate sympathy is with the leadership of the union. Like, I don’t, I just don’t understand. I’ve been meaning to, like, talk to people that are closer to it and get a…but here’s what I think is weird. I think that it’s weird that the smallest campus took unilateral action and was like negotiating on its own, which like totally undermines all the other campuses. I think that doing it outside of the union process instead of, hey, let’s build for a COLA for everyone in the next round of negotiations is pretty telling, and a problem. Also, I don’t think those people should be fired, obviously, and also I think that people should get raises. I mean, it’s like absurd. I know full, you know, very well how low the wages are. But, like, I-, why not go, like, build the union and do it through the union? This, like the, the instinct, and the fact that it came from Santa Cruz, which has always had this toxic leftish, leftier than thou culture, like, made me skeptical. But again, I’m, I haven’t drilled down. I could be totally off base.

Yeah. And I was also wondering if you had any access to the previous UAW contracts, like the-

Well, that’s a good question. I mean, there do you, are they not on the web? Well, I guess they wouldn’t put the old ones on the website.

Yeah. It’s only the twenty eighteen to twenty twenty two up there right now.

Have you asked the union?

Yeah, and, well one of them-, they put me in contact with you, and then several other people- 

Who at the union put you put you in contact with me?

I think it was ** Yeah. He just let me know that you would have a lot more information like-

I don’t think I know that person. But anyway.

But the other people that I’ve contacted, only a couple of gotten back to me and they said that they don’t have access, or like they can’t locate all the old ones.

So the people that you should talk to to try to locate them, I mean, they’re definitely at the, the statewide office, like, for sure. So you could be a little more aggressive with them and just be like, hey, I’m just looking for old copies. I’ll reimburse you for, for postage or whatever. I just want old copies of the contract. They have them. They’re in a drawer there, a hundred percent. So, and then, why don’t you call…He will be very careful with what he says to you because he’s international staff. I’ll give you his email address so. So I think it’s ** He’s an international rep. And he knows where everything’s buried. Mm hmm. But like I said, you probably won’t want to talk on the record about his thoughts about these things. But if you have factual things, I’d like the contract. When was the first contract ratified? When did the U. All of those things we’ll be happy to answer and and point you in the right direction so you can tell him that I recommended him.

OK.

But all those things are public. So the contract is a public document because we’re public employees. You know, as part of the bargaining process, in fact, like there’s this thing you have to go through. It’s like a ceremony of sunshining, where like both sides have to come with their their proposals to a public place and sit there. So any member of the public can come and look at them because it’s tax dollars. It’s a public agency. So like they have the right to know. It’s weird, but you have, they, they shouldn’t be able to block you from it.

Ok. Perfect. So those were all of my questions. Was there anything else you’d like to add to the interview?

No. They were really good questions and sounds like you’re off to a good start in terms of piecing together the timeline. I’ll talk to a couple other people. I mean, I don’t know what your methodology is for finding interviews. If you’re using, like a snowball method and you want recommendations for me. I’m happy to talk to people and find out if it’s OK to share their contact with you and share it if you want.

Yeah, definitely. That be great.

OK, yeah. Because I’m still friends with a whole bunch of my cohort, of people, both from Santa Barbara and statewide.

Mm hmm. Yeah, that’d be great. Thank you so much.

OK. No problem.

And also, are you OK with going on record with things that were said during the interview?

Everything I said is on the record.

OK. OK. Perfect. All right. Well, have a great rest of your week, and thank you for meeting with me!

My pleasure. Stay safe.

You too.

**Name has been edited out for anonymity

TA Unionization

1990s


Achieving Unionization 

On June ninth of 1998, UCSB faculty received an email that their TAs, readers, and tutors would take part in a University of California system wide strike the following quarter. The UCSB Association of Student Employees, a graduate student union, had sent the email; while members had formed a state recognized union and had affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW), UC Regents still refused to recognize the collective bargaining rights of its members. But graduate students could no longer tolerate their working conditions; they were undervalued, underpaid, and overworked. So, graduate students across the UC system withdrew what power they had, their labor, in order to force recognition of their union. 

Teaching assistants’ efforts before the 90s to negotiate with the UC were largely unsuccessful because TAs were considered apprentices, not employees. Apprentices, under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) of 1979 are students whose employment is related to their educational goals. This is significant because only employees were permitted to have collective bargaining rights. While graduate students challenged this legislation, the UC system spent millions of dollars in order to have the California Court of Appeals uphold the law. Even without the support of the UC, graduate students at UC Berkeley formed the Association of Graduate Student Employees (AGSE) in 1983. The AGSE later affiliated with the UAW in 1987 in order to expand its economic and organizational resources, and became the AGSE-UAW (the UAW at that point had expanded into nearly every sector of labor). However, it took UCSB until 1994 for graduate students to achieve the necessary 50% AGSE membership to be verified by California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), a government agency that protects government workers’ rights. They quickly followed in UC Berkeley’s footsteps and created their own local chapter of the UAW for financial support and advising. Even with UAW affiliation and recognition by PERB, the UC Regents still refused to recognize the union. Finally, TAs across the UC system went on strike several times during the 1990s to demand that the UC regents recognize their union and give them a contract.

[Graduate Student Bill of Rights 1993, GSA, Box 2] University of California, Santa Barbara, Graduate Student Records. UArch 13. Department of Special Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Achieving Recognition 

1998 – Prepare to Launch

During spring quarter of 1998, graduate students authorized a strike for early December of the following school year. In order to demonstrate strong support, members of the AGSE-UAW campaigned to achieve high member turnout on the strike authorization vote. The union set a quorum to ensure that half of all members must be present for the vote to prove to the UC that it had a wide base of support. Leading members held meetings and conducted phone campaigns in order to encourage fellow graduate students to vote for the strike. In the end, 87% of union members (about 500 out of the 600 members who voted) decided to go on strike in order to force the UC system to recognize their union. Ricardo Ochoa, the President of the AGSE, declared in an email to UC faculty that the union had shown “great restraint” in their previous communications with the UC. The union met with chancellors, launched letter writing campaigns, and instigated two day “rolling strikes” in the 1996-1997 school year instead of a system wide shutdown like the one proposed for 1998. However, the UC refused to take action. 

The Big One

In fall quarter of 1998, graduate students on all eight campuses went on a “walkout” strike during finals week in order to force UC recognition of their union. Undergraduate support for the strike was surprising. In late November, the Daily Nexus issued a staff editorial in support of the strike, deeming it “justifiable” and calling on other undergrads to support the strike. The editorial stated that unionized graduate students would improve undergraduate students’ education by relieving stress for graduates and providing more enthusiastic TAs for sections. 

The following day, the Nexus published two letters calling on students to support the strike. One letter, written by the AGSE-UAW, powerfully stated that when TAs are “overworked,” undergrads are “undertaught,” and touted the strike’s endorsement by Associated Students. The letter concluded by encouraging readers to contact Chancellor Yang and tell him to avoid the strike by immediately recognizing the union. The other letter, written by sociology TA Glyn Hughes reiterated that the strike was for the betterment of both graduate and undergraduates, and encouraged students to contact the UC President, Richard Atkinson. 

Show Time

Beginning December 1, TAs at all UCs went on strike. The strike meant that participating union members would not grade papers or exams, or hold office hours or sections until the strike ended. Grad students picketed peacefully outside Davidson Library in order to draw undergraduate attention who they hoped would support their cause as an appreciation of the work TAs do for undergrads. However, administrators such as Vice Chancellor David Sheldon and many TAs believed the strike was disruptive and damaging to both graduate and undergraduate academics.

An “FAQ” sponsored by the UC in the December 3rd edition of the Daily Nexus offered the UC’s perspective on the issue. The Office of the Dean of the Graduate Division detailed the recently created Task Force on Graduate Student Support and the compensation packages of teaching assistants. The Dean maintained the position that TAs did not qualify as employees and that many of their complaints, such as compensation and workload, were either unjustified or able to be addressed through existing channels such as Graduate Advisors. Graduate student Mary Raven also said she did not support the strike in a letter to the Nexus editor because she also believed that issues could be handled through the chancellor and the Graduate Division.

(Webb, Dec. 1998, Daily Nexus)

After a week of gridlock, State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton directed the UC and the UAW into a 45 day “cooling off period,” which began December 7. However, the UAW had not informed strikers that it had met with state legislators or UC representatives, and grad students were surprised to hear that the strike was off. As a result, factions formed within the AGSE-UAW union itself as many grads tried to break from the UAW. Fault lines deepened after members learned they did not have the democratic rights outlined in the UAW constitution until they were recognized by the UC. Therefore, the UAW could control meetings with the UC to negotiate a contract. 

1999

Then, in March, the UC was forced to recognize the collective bargaining rights of graduate students. The need came after the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) reexamined the responsibilities of TAs in the perennial court case Regents of the University of California v. Association of Graduate Student Employees. PERB ruled that graduate students should be considered employees, not apprentices. Because not every graduate student became an educator, their work as TAs was often not related to their educational goals. Therefore, as employees, they were entitled to collective bargaining rights. 

However, the union still had to elect representation. PERB necessitated that each union needed leadership in order to negotiate a contract, but up to that point, leaders had been hand-picked by the UAW. Many TAs felt concerned about the influence of the UAW since the ASGE had affiliated with it and the lack of democracy that had been crucial to the grassroots efforts of the original ASGE. Nevertheless, in June, graduate students elected 184-134 (a low voter turnout), the UAW as their exclusive bargaining agent. The UAW soon held elections for the contract bargaining team: eight graduate students whose most electable qualities were that they were still willing to work with the UAW. However, these members resigned when the UAW moved to represent the whole UC system in contract negotiation and forced UCSB graduates into a “one size fits all” contract for all eight UCs; this included giving up the right to strike. There was no one left to work with the UAW at UCSB, but negotiations still continued without UCSB graduate representation. 

2000

That summer, the UAW combined all UC graduate student unions into Local 2865, which bargained on behalf of all the campuses. The union negotiated the historic first contract for graduate students, although to many it seemed a hollow victory. The contract had failed to secure increased health care benefits and only achieved a nominal pay raise, however, it had managed to secure a victory in binding arbitration and grievance. Additionally, graduate students who were not part of the union still had to pay about $13 per month in dues in order to negotiate and enforce contracts. However, this easy revenue stream also discouraged the UAW from responding to member grievances or from organizing workers. While the union was historic, UCSB graduate students became disillusioned with the UAW, and membership dropped to just 53 card carrying members by the following year. 

Graduate students still feel the effects of the historic contract, especially the clause that forbade strikes. In 2019, graduate students at UC Santa Cruz began a strike which cannot be authorized by the UAW because it breaches the contract. Because of this, UCSC cannot receive legal or financial support from the UAW International, even though the strike has led to the arrest of over a dozen graduate students. However, union membership to the UAW Local 2865 has increased significantly since 2000; today, roughly 60% of TAs at UCSB are members. The local UAW has been critical in networking and rallying support for graduate student issues such as the UC- wide movement for a Cost of Living Adjustment. 


By: Jillian Wertzberger

Works Cited 

[ASE/UAW Authorization Vote, Correspondence 1998-2001, Box 2] University of California, Santa Barbara, Graduate Student Records. UArch 13. Department of Special Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Update on Graduate Strike at UC Berkeley. (1996, November 21). Retrieved February 18, 2020, from https://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/96legacy/agse.htmlold

Our History. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2020, from https://uaw2865.org/about-our-union/our-history/

The Call for Unionization. (1998, November 24). Daily Nexus, p. 6. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/hq37vp893   

TA Strike Helps Undergrads. (1998, November 25). Daily Nexus, p. 4. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/9593tw35m

Hughes, G. (1998, November 25). Help with the Strike. Daily Nexus, p. 4. Retrieved from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/9593tw35m

Webb, K. (1998, December 3). TA Strike to Proceed Until Demands Are Met. Daily Nexus, pp. 1,9.  https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/z029p595f

Fletcher, R. (1998, December 3). TAing is Not a Required Position for Grads. Daily Nexus, p. 6. https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/z029p595f

Raven, M. (1998, December 3). TA Strike Doesn’t Have Full Support. Daily Nexus, p. 7. https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/z029p595f

Office of the Dean of the Graduate Division. (1998, December 3). Questions and Answers. Daily Nexus, p. 8. https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/z029p595f

Shah, A. (1999, January 11). Ruling recognizes collective bargaining rights. Daily Bruin. https://dailybruin.com/1999/01/10/ruling-recognizes-collective-b/

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Childress, E. (1999, January 6). TAs Halt Strike Early; Students Given Break. Daily Nexus, pp. 1,8. https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/7d278v07q

Sullivan, R. (n.d.). Pyrrhic Victory at UC Santa Barbara: The Struggle for Labor’s New Identity. In Cogs in the Classroom Factory (pp. 91–116). Wesport, Connecticut: Praeger. http://richardsullivan.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Sullivan-2003-Pyrrhic-Victory.pdf

Saltzman, G. M. (2000). Union Organizing and the Law: Part Time Faculty and Graduate Teaching Assistants. In NEA 2000 Almanac of Higher Education (pp. 43–55). http://www.nea.org/assets/img/PubAlmanac/ALM_00_05.pdf

Public Employment Relations Board, (1995, July 17), UC Regents v. Association of Graduate Students, UAW. https://perb.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/decisionbank/A269H.pdf

Public Employment Relations Board, (1998, December 11), UC Regents v. Association of Graduate Students, UAW.   https://perb.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/decisionbank/1301H.pdf

Douglas-Gabriel, D. (2020, February 14). Graduate Strike at UC Santa Cruz Leads to Arrests. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/02/14/graduate-strike-uc-santa-cruz-leads-arrests/%3foutputType=amp