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UC Assistants to Strike for a Day Over Contract Talks

October 03, 2003|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

Unionized teaching assistants, tutors and readers throughout the University of California system will not show up for classes today, after a breakdown this week in contract talks.

More than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students who teach at the system's eight undergraduate teaching campuses will participate in a one-day strike intended to protest what union officials describe as a pattern of unfair labor practices by university negotiators. The planned action left faculty and department heads at UC schools scrambling to fill teaching assistant positions for the day.

United Auto Workers, Local 2865, the union that represents the teaching assistants, announced the strike Thursday, two days after a last-minute bargaining session with the university broke down. Union officials responded to the breakdown by filing 64 unfair labor practice charges against the UC system, saying it had bargained in bad faith. Complaints included accusations that university negotiators had scheduled inadequate time to bargain on new contracts, made unilateral contract changes and given contradictory reasons for contract positions.

"These unfair labor practices are what's making it impossible to have a meaningful bargaining relationship," said Beth Rayfield, a union spokeswoman and teaching assistant. "They're breaking the law."

Chief among the student teachers' complaints is that UC officials will not allow them to participate in so-called sympathy strikes with other campus unions. Teaching assistants, who instruct 60% of UC students, say they also want the right not to cross picket lines established by unions for other UC system employees, such as clerical workers.

UC officials insist that today's planned strike is illegal, as union members are required to exhaust all negotiation possibilities before resorting to a strike. They also say that allowing the teaching assistants to strike in sympathy with other unions would be a violation of their contracts, which prohibit strikes before the expiration of their contracts.

"Strikes are intended to be a last resort, not a bargaining tool," said UC spokesman Paul Schwartz. "Either side can file complaints of unfair practices, but that doesn't mean they have any merit."

Today's planned strike follows six months of negotiations for a new three-year contract. The most recent contract expired Tuesday, after two days of intensive, nonstop negotiations in Oakland. Under the last contract, the starting salary for a teaching assistant was about $14,000.

Schwartz said UC officials believe the strike will be disruptive, but they hope that they will return to the bargaining table soon. "We're hopeful that we can get an agreement rather quickly," Schwartz said.

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