Open Letter from UAW Bargaining Team Members Urging a NO VOTE on Contract Agreement

Repost from UCSC (grad) students organizing committee:

An Open Letter to Members of UAW Local 2865

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are members of the UAW Bargaining Team that recently reached tentative agreement on a contract with the UC.  This agreement will be put to ratification vote during the week of November 29.  We want to urge members of our units, as well as members at other campuses statewide, to VOTE NO on ratification. The proposed agreement is not a victory (despite the cheerleading tone of the email announcement to members), but represents a significant failure by our union’s leadership.

The first thing you should know is that the tentative agreement is not endorsed by the entire Bargaining Team—including a significant minority who cast votes against it.  In fact, no Bargaining Team member from Berkeley or Santa Cruz signed the final agreement—a first in the history of our Local.  Nor does the email recommendation for a “YES vote” represent the position of the full Bargaining Team.  Let us be clear: a number of Bargaining Team members, ourselves included, recommend that you VOTE NO on the tentative agreement.

This is why:

First, we want to make it clear that there was very little danger of concessions in this contract negotiation.  From the very beginning of bargaining, UC offered few proposals that would have revoked rights or benefits from our current contract.  They only pursued one concession seriously to the end of negotiations (a reduction in UC-provided compensation for Bargaining Team members).  While it is important that we managed to protect this provision of our current contract, it is misleading to trumpet our achievement in “stav[ing] off any concessions.”  The threat of major concessions, financial or otherwise, was NEVER on the table.

The two “major” achievements of this tentative agreement are the 2% annual wage increase and the increase in the childcare reimbursement to $600/quarter.  As you probably know, these numbers are inadequate: the 2% increase does not even match the projected 3% inflation rate for the next three years1 and, as many of our colleagues have explained to us, childcare in many UC cities can cost up to $1000 PER MONTH.  As for the new provision that guarantees us a wage increase above 2% if UC’s state budget allocation increases over the 2007-08 level?  That language is the closest thing to an actual joke that you will find in our contract.  You can read all of these provisions of the tentative agreement here.

The UAW leadership email tries to sugarcoat these minor financial improvements by invoking UC President Mark G. Yudof’s favorite bogeyman: the current financial climate.  But is it true that UC cannot afford to increase our benefits further?  Is it greedy to ask for more during this period of budget austerity?  Not if you consider the numbers:

  • By UAW’s calculations, a 1% annual increase in TA salaries SYSTEMWIDE costs the UC about $1.5 million.  Thus, an improvement in our wage increase from 2% to 4% would only cost the UC about 3 million dollars.  To put this number in perspective, you should consider that the UC Regents have increased executive compensation by $11.5 million this year.2 Or that UC spent $2 million last year on bottled water.3
  • Similarly, UAW calculated that doubling the childcare reimbursement would cost the UC about $75,000 per year SYSTEMWIDE.  At this rate, the UC could offer full childcare reimbursement to our members for less than an additional $500,000 a year (again, that’s SYSTEMWIDE).

We hope these numbers make clear that, even if the budget climate were as bad as UC claims, they could afford to pay us a wage that outpaces inflation and could afford to provide a full childcare reimbursement to our members.  We should also note that, according to UC’s own recent financial statements, a restoration of state funding combined with fee increases has produced a 14% increase in total revenue this year compared to the 2007-2008 levels.4 In other words, improving our benefits would not be expensive and UC has the money. Even so, the majority of the Bargaining Team refused to stand behind these demands.  But you should not accept their capitulation as our contract.

When considering this tentative agreement, you should not only consider what little we got, but also what we didn’t get.  You may notice that many of the issues that directly affect our actual teaching are not addressed in this agreement.  There is no limitation on class sizes.  There is no protection against cuts to TA positions.  There is no language that prevents the outsourcing of our work.  And despite the so-called improvement to the Appointment Notification article, academic departments can continue to assign TAships at any time (even AFTER the beginning of the quarter) if they so choose.  While not all of these issues are easy to bargain, it is not wrong for UAW members to demand a serious effort to fight for these issues.

So why did the UAW Bargaining Team fail in this negotiation?  We will not suggest that any member of the Bargaining Team who recommends this agreement does so with bad intentions.  However, we do think that support for this agreement is partially due to a reluctance on the part of UAW leadership (at both the statewide and campus level) to seriously organize for a strike.  We are under no illusions that organizing a strike is easy—it’s not.  But we question whether most of the UAW leadership ever really considered the option.  Although several campuses did begin the long and difficult process of strike organizing, the leadership at other campuses made only token attempts.  On some campuses, grassroots organizing by rank-and-file members in support of a strike was met with outright hostility by UAW leaders—including angry office visits from UAW Executive Board members.  When rank-and-file members at the Northern campuses circulated a petition calling for an emergency statewide meeting to plan for a strike, the UAW Executive Board responded by collecting signatures to hold their own version of that meeting in the South.  And recently, two dissenting members of the Bargaining Team were removed by UAW leadership after a systematic exclusion from conference calls and email correspondence.  By refusing to organize credibly for a strike (and, in some cases, by discouraging that very organizing), the UAW leadership made a choice: to accept the UC’s final offer instead of trying to change significantly that final offer.

Let us be clear: this letter is not an attack on unions nor an argument against union membership.  We believe that the only way for us to win the rights and benefits we deserve as academic workers is through membership in a strong and vibrant union. We do not believe that our union is weak; rather, we believe that our current leadership does not recognize our strength. We urge everyone who reads this letter to become active in organizing graduate students on your campus—regardless of whether the UAW leadership supports your efforts.

The first step to a stronger union is to reject this tentative agreement.  For the reasons we’ve detailed, you should send the Bargaining Team back to the table with a resounding demand that they fight, that they take their cue from the rank-and-file, and that they organize the threat of a real strike.  In the next two weeks, the UAW leadership will deploy an army of employees to campuses statewide to convince you to vote against your best interests.  Don’t fall for it.  You deserve a better contract and better leadership.  We urge you to VOTE NO on the tentative agreement and, in May 2011, to vote for new UAW leadership.

In solidarity,

Brian Malone
Jessy Lancaster
UC Santa Cruz

Nick Kardahji
Jessica Taal
UC Berkeley

Bron Tamulis
UC Irvine





4. From an analysis of UC financial statements. Read it here:

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