Lawmakers urge for UC’s immediate recognition of graduate students union
Graduate student researchers across University of California campuses are preparing for a strike-authorization vote after the university system refused to recognize fellows and trainees as part of a Student Researchers United bargaining unit.
Thursday, the graduate student researchers protested at UC campuses. Participants at UCSB delivered a resolution to Chancellor Henry Yang’s office asking him to urge UC President Michael Drake to recognize the union.
The unionization drive consists of 17,000 members, and the University of California agreed to bargain with 11,000 of those petitioners.
Around 3,000 members are not UC employees as defined by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act, the university says, and the remaining students’ status has not been determined.
UC sent the following statement to the News-Press: “The University of California believes our graduate student researchers contribute to the University’s key research mission, creating new knowledge. We support our employees’ right to union representation. UC is in ongoing discussions with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) regarding the final composition of this new bargaining unit.
“The University will recognize the graduate student researchers included in the petition, which also included graduate students who are not University employees as defined by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. We hope to resolve this matter in a timely fashion so that good-faith negotiations on the terms and conditions of employment with this new bargaining unit can commence.”
A spokesperson for the University of California clarified that it only recognizes the 11,000 student employees.
Graduate student researchers argue there is not a difference between fellows and other researchers.
Joe Costello, a physics grad student, spoke during Thursday’s demonstration about the distinction.
“Instead of negotiating with us in good faith, UC is paying all these high-powered lawyers a ridiculous amount of money to file legal challenges and trying to divide us,” he said. “They say that fellows and trainees are not employed, which we all know is bull (sic), right?
“They work in the same lab, under the same professors, for the same university; they do the exact same thing we do. And they’re trying to take advantage of some technicalities in the way the money goes to try and divide.”
He told the News-Press that graduate student researchers are treated poorly and paid low wages.
“When I first got involved with this, it was because it was kind of ridiculous that teachers assistants had a union and graduate student researchers didn’t. And people might not be aware of how fluid that distinction is,” he said. “So it didn’t really make sense for there to be protection sometimes and not others.”
Earlier this week, 30 members of California’s congressional delegation sent a letter to President Drake urging immediate support of Student Researchers United.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, is one of the 30 signatures.
“The UC system, of which I am a proud alum, is America’s premiere research institution and that is largely thanks to the incredible contributions of Student Researchers,” he told the News-Press in a statement. “I stand behind the thousands of Student Researchers who have chosen to unionize and ask the University of California to respect their decision and recognize their right to collectively bargain for better wages, hours, and workplace protections. Their groundbreaking work is part of what makes the University of California among the best of the best, and they deserve the full scope of employment rights that other UC employees already enjoy.”
The strike-authorization vote is over a week away.
Student Researchers United may not necessarily strike if it receives ⅔ authorization but is pursuing a vote if future circumstances justify a strike.