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UC Teaching Assistants Strike for 1 Day, Citing Contract Talks

Thousands walk out across the state, accusing university negotiators of unfair practices. Officials deny the allegation.

October 04, 2003|Marcelo Rodriguez, David Reyes and Monte Morin | Special to The Times

Thousands of unionized teaching assistants at University of California campuses across the state refused to hold classes Friday, protesting, according to their union, allegedly unfair contract negotiation practices.

From Berkeley to UC Irvine, teaching assistants, tutors and readers led campus demonstrations as part of the one-day strike. United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents the assistants, said they were angry at UC demands that they give up their right to stage sympathy strikes with other campus unions. They also said UC negotiators had bargained in bad faith, which UC officials denied.

"We hope the universities are getting the message," said Beth Rayfield, a union spokeswoman and graduate student. "We are extremely outraged at the suggestion that we should sacrifice our support of other unions.... They are singling us out and treating us differently."

The union local has more than 10,000 members, most of whom are graduate students.

Participation in the strike varied at UC campuses. At Berkeley, about half of the teaching assistants' classes were canceled, according to union officials. But at some schools, including UCLA, only a few were canceled, university officials said.

"The day went on pretty much without incident," said Harlan Lebo, a UCLA spokesman. "Up to 600 classes could have been affected, but as far as we can tell, most classes went on as normal."

Such claims were disputed by union officials, who said more than 1,000 teaching assistants at UCLA had participated in the strike and demonstrations.

At UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, at the foot of Telegraph Avenue, about 70 graduate student instructors and their supporters marched in a tight circle all day, forcing students trying to enter the campus to step around them.

The picketers' chants often were drowned out by the sound of horns honking in support along Bancroft Avenue on one side, and the drum corps from the university's marching band celebrating homecoming week on the other.

"We're not here looking for a pay raise," said Andy Roddick, an anthropology graduate student who canceled a teaching section with 15 students Friday. "We just want fair labor standards to be applied to us so that we aren't exploited."

Nearby, undergrad James Sitrie shook his head. "They really should stop complaining," he said. "They have a privileged position and get to rub shoulders with the brightest minds in academia. They can just quit their job if they don't like it."

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

Paul Schwartz, a spokesman for the UC system, said that Friday's action had caused little disruption and that the assistants should have exhausted other negotiation options first.

"We very much regret the union's decision to ask our student employees to consider a strike at this time," Schwartz said. "Still, we remain hopeful that resolution is near."

At UC Irvine, protesters demonstrated noisily, shouting slogans through a bullhorn. But many teaching assistants chose to work.

"In my morning constitutional law class, the TA showed up, so the class was normal; no problems," said student Gabriel Moreno, 19, of Santa Ana.


Times staff writer Eric Malnic contributed to this report.

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