Credit: Don Brubaker

On Tuesday, November 22, six complaints were filed against the University of California by the California Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), supporting allegations of unfair labor practices committed by the university in its bargaining with the union representing UC student workers on strike statewide. The findings, released on day nine of the strike, cover allegations of unlawful labor practices at multiple UC campuses, including UC Santa Barbara. 

As the strike now enters its third week, the new complaints issued by PERB add to the growing testimony the United Auto Workers union (UAW) — which represents the 48,000 academic workers who have been striking across all 10 UC campuses since November 14 — has been building against the UC over the course of their negotiations this year.

“These complaints mark recognition of what Academic Workers have known all along: UC’s refusal to bargain with us over all of our compensation is not only unacceptable, it is an unlawful attempt to undermine our collective bargaining rights,” said Kavitha Iyengar, UAW-2865 northern vice president. 

The union claims that, under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA), the UC has failed to meet certain legal obligations required of them during bargaining. UAW locals have filed more than 30 unfair labor practice allegations against the university so far, “and PERB has found validity with every one that they have responded to,” according to union officials. 

The new complaints issued by PERB, as detailed in a union press release, are in regard to the university’s alleged failure to bargain with two of three union affiliates — UAW-2865 and SRU-UAW — over compensation, and unilateral changes to workers’ compensation without prior consultation with union representatives. 

“We disagree with [the union’s] claims and note that to date there has been no finding of wrongdoing by the PERB against the University,” said Ryan King, a UC spokesperson. 

The complaints do not prove that the university has violated state labor law. They’re more like a preliminary slap on the wrist. 

After a complaint is issued by PERB, the case then proceeds to an informal settlement conference to see if the matter can be resolved between parties. If a settlement is not reached, a hearing will be scheduled to determine whether or not the UC has broken the law, which will ultimately be decided by an administrative law judge after they review the findings and testimonies. 

Once a ruling has been made, either side can appeal the decision to PERB, and if the finding of an unfair labor practice is upheld, the outcome will most likely involve remedying the issue without any assignment of legal fines or penalties. 

One of PERB’s six complaints was filed against UCSB’s Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) Department. That specific complaint alleges the UC bypassed the union with “unilateral changes to compensation,” engaged in “direct dealing” with bargaining unit members, and “[failed] to bargain lawfully.” 

According to the unfair practice charge filed by the union against UCSB, instead of “bargaining in good faith” with Local 2865 and SRU-UAW, the university sent out an email directly to individual MCDB teaching assistants and graduate student researchers announcing stipend increases beginning fall 2022. 

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Union representatives claim they were given no prior notice of the stipend changes for bargaining unit members, or any opportunity “to meet and confer” with the university before the announcement. They also claim the “first notification” that representatives received about the planned increases was through their own union members after the email was sent out, and that the university’s “failure to consult” union representatives in matters “relating to the bargaining unit’s terms and conditions of employment” was demonstrative of “the University’s bad faith.”

The stipend announcement, sent out on February 3, 2022, came from a graduate advisor and professor for the UCSB MCDB Department, and was addressed to to “mcdbgrads,” with the subject line, “Fwd: MCDB Grad Student Stipends are going up next Fall!” 

The email details a stipend change, “by a vote of the faculty,” for MCDB graduate student researchers increasing their stipends to $9,000 per quarter starting with Fall 2022, for a total of $36,000 per year. The announcement continues on to say that the university anticipates stipends for teaching assistants (TAs) working part-time appointments will increase to approximately $2,660 per month in that same time period, while also encouraging faculty mentors to supplement TA stipends to bring them to the GSR level. It also implies the discussion of TA stipend increases to be between TAs and their mentors, with no mention of Local 2865 or SRU-UAW made in the email. 

The charge asserts that the planned stipend changes “undermined Local 2865’s and SRU-UAW’s role as exclusive representatives for the TAs and GSRs, respectively.” It also specifies that, under HEERA, faculty are not considered as an exclusive representative for those student employees. 

The UC’s response to the charge, issued on September 26, argues that the union’s claims “fail” because “the increase in stipends for UCSB MCDB graduate students was not a mandatory subject of bargaining,” and “the increase in funding did not have a generalized effect or continuing impact on terms and conditions of employment.” The UC claims that the stipends were, rather, “announced for future graduate students and provided in their capacity as students, not as employees,” going on to say that the decision to increase funding was made “before the GSR bargaining unit was established.”  

However, the union’s charge maintained that the university “had been meeting with Local 2865 and SRU-UAW for the very purpose of bargaining over terms and conditions of employment such as the stipend increases described in the Department’s email,” and that “the stipends discussed in the correspondence were terms and conditions of employment and within the scope of representation.”

Eventually, if disputes between parties are not settled, PERB will convene hearings on the complaints, which is scheduled to be heard in February 2023. The six new complaints are part of the 15 total complaints issued by PERB thus far concerning the Unfair Labor Practices filed by the UAW against the UC. Some of those charges have since been amended, and a few have already had hearing dates assigned for 2023. 

For now, the strike continues. The latest update from the union announced that postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers have made progress at the bargaining table, and “UC Postdocs are on track to have the highest academic salary scale of any Postdocs in the country.” However, Rafael Jaime, President of UAW Local 2865, said, as of Monday, 11 days have passed since graduate student workers, including 36,000 academic student employees and student researchers, “made their latest wage proposal, with no response from the University.” 

According to Janna Haider, the recording secretary for UAW 2865 Santa Barbara, “As soon as the UC settles existing ULPs and bargains in good faith, we’ll be in a much better position to end the strike.” 

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