UC says tying workers’ housing costs to pay could have dire impacts

Wage and housing demands from University of California academic staff – who launched a massive system-wide strike this week – could total hundreds of millions of dollars annually, an “overwhelming” financial impact, says a senior UC leader.

In a letter released Wednesday, UC Provost Michael T. Brown told the system’s 10 chancellors and other top leaders that housing costs in California were a “significant challenge” and vowed to “work diligently” to support students . However, he drew particular attention to the implications of two union demands – linking compensation to housing costs and waiving tuition fees for international scientists.

Brown said the state grant for UC students only funds Californians, so the university has to rely on other funds — including additional tuition — to cover costs for international and foreign students.

“If we were to grant an out-of-state tuition waiver, non-California resident student workers would actually receive a larger compensation package than California resident student workers for doing the same work,” Brown said.

Rafael Jaime, a UCLA graduate student and president of United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents 19,000 striking teaching assistants, tutors and other academic workers, said union leaders have yet to see Brown’s letter but the Provost’s cost estimates are “inflated.” He said the unions would like to negotiate the issue.

“If the university has a better proposal that seriously addresses the housing crisis, we’re ready and willing to hear it,” Jaime said.

Nearly 48,000 UC academic staff — including postdocs, graduate teaching assistants and researchers — walked out this week in what is being described as the largest strike at an academic institution in history. The action by the workers, who conduct much of the teaching and research at the state’s premier higher education system, sparked canceled classes, closed labs and other academic disruptions just weeks before finals. The strike also included workers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The strike comes after more than 50 bargaining sessions that began a year ago, but UC Santa Cruz graduate students drew attention to their financial woes for the first time in 2019 and 2020 with a nationwide wildcat strike. Then-UC President Janet Napolitano ordered them to stop withholding grades, as some had done, or face termination. Dozens were fired, but most were eventually reinstated. This week, four UAW negotiating units joined forces in a unified work effort.

The walkout aims to challenge long-held labor practices at UC and other universities across the country, which have come under increasing scrutiny for how college graduates and academic staff are paid at a time of rising inflation and growing union activism.

Workers are demanding substantial wage increases, childcare subsidies, improved health care for dependents, longer family vacations, public transport tickets and lower tuition fees for international scientists.

Union leaders say housing costs on and near many UC campuses have continued to rise, leaving the majority of their members “rent-burdened,” or spending more than 30% of their income on rent. Two of the four unions – those representing student researchers and academic student workers who act as teaching assistants and tutors – are calling for their pay to be tied to increases in local living costs, including housing costs, so no one pays more than 30% of it their salary to the housing costs.

Regarding the tuition waiver for international students, Jaime said the university, in one way or another, already covers the higher fees for about 60% of international PhD students – so just want to see a consistent policy.

“It’s very random and unpredictable right now,” Jaime said. “No one should have to pay to work at the University of California.”

Several academics spoke up at Wednesday’s UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco, asking for support. Chief Executive Richard Leib said he sympathizes with the workers but some of their demands may be difficult to meet.

“I sympathize with the PhD students. I understand the pain they are in,” Leib said during a break in the meeting on Wednesday. But he said the cost of tying wages and housing could be “large and difficult to manage”.

Brown noted that the academic students would work part-time and, according to UC’s proposals, would be “among the highest paid” among the leading public universities and would be similar to what the best private institutions offer.

UC has offered salary increases of 7% in the first year and 3% each subsequent year for teaching assistants and tutors, and larger increases for postdocs of 8% in the first year, 5% in the second year, and 3% in subsequent years. UC said pay increases would be as high as 17%, depending on the union.

UC also proposes childcare allowances and more paid maternity and family leave, with different proposals for different bargaining units.

Both sides have made some progress. For example, they agreed on greater protection against bullying and abuse in the workplace. But UC has asked for a government mediator to step in.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-16/uc-union-demands-to-tie-pay-to-housing-costs-could-have-overwhelming-financial-impact UC says tying workers’ housing costs to pay could have dire impacts

Alley Einstein

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