UC and its union problem

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All is unwell after the largest and longest strike of higher education academic workers in U.S. history, according to United Auto Workers Local 2865 President Rafael Jaime. The UAW represents UC academic researchers, academic student employees, graduate student researchers and postdoctoral scholars.

“At a time when the State of California is looking to expand educational opportunities for students,” Jaime says, “particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is disappointing that the University of California is seeking to reduce graduate enrollment. Not only will this mean fewer opportunities for Californians to pursue graduate-level education, but it will mean lower quality education for UC’s undergraduates, who will have larger classes with fewer teaching assistants to help them learn.”

The UAW bases its claims of management’s post-strike actions on the results of a UC system wide survey of its rank-and-file academic union members. This is an example of an anonymous member’s feedback from one of the 10 UC campuses. “Our department is planning on fewer Ph.D. program admissions for the upcoming year, citing budgetary constraints due to higher salaries from the strike results. We were passed down this information from our department’s graduate student representatives, who got their information from our department’s faculty leadership (chair of department and chair of graduate studies for Earth System Science).”

“At a time when the State of California is looking to expand educational opportunities for students,” Jaime says, “particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is disappointing that the University of California is seeking to reduce graduate enrollment.”

Capitol Weekly asked UC management for a comment on Jaime’s assessment of the post-strike funding situation for the 2023-2024 year.

“The UCOP has not provided any guidance to campuses instructing them to reduce student enrollment in the upcoming budget year 2023-24,” says Roqua Montez IV, director of media relations and press secretary for the UC Office of the President (UCOP). “Given that the contract is in the final budgeting and initial implementation phase across our system, it would be premature to speculate on any impacts on enrollment.

“As is the case when new labor contracts are negotiated, especially those involving new bargaining units (this is the first contract for our graduate student researchers unit [GRU]), there is an expected period of implementation where issues are brought to our attention and appropriate processes and procedures are put in place. We will continue our conversations with each location to understand where there are needs and how best UCOP can support the implementation of this vital contract.”

H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the state Department of Finance, offered the administration’s view of the UC labor-management dispute in the context of the governor’s $297 billion spending plan for 2023-24.

“This year’s budget, approved last June, represents the first year of the multi-year compact that the Governor negotiated with UC,” he says. “In exchange for making measurable progress in expanding student access, equity, and affordability, the Governor committed to providing UC with predictable annual increases of five percent to their base budget over a multi-year period. In this first year of the compact, the budget provided that five-percent increase of approximately $200.5 million, as well as an additional ongoing $67.8 million for a resident undergraduate enrollment increase of 6,230 full-time equivalent students this year.

“The fiscal year that begins this July 1st marks the second year of that compact. At a time when the state now faces a budget shortfall that’s currently estimated at $22.5 billion—and in a budget proposal that reflects a series of delays, deferrals, and triggered reductions to close it—it’s significant that the Governor is maintaining his funding commitment in his proposed budget without reduction.  Consistent with the Compact, he has proposed another five-percent increase to UC’s base budget of $215.5 million in the coming fiscal year for operating costs.

“Given these ongoing increases in state support, it’s the Administration’s expectation that the Regents will be able to manage their growing resources in a manner that’s consistent with achieving the agreed-upon goals in the Compact of increased access, equity, and student success.”

The UC budget hearing begins in March. At that time, the hearing can exam the union’s allegation against management in the context of the overall budget condition and forecasts, according to Richard Stapler, chief of staff for state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz).

State Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) declined a request to comment.

Seth Sandronsky lives and works in Sacramento. He is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email


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