California State University teaching assistants staged a one-day strike Thursday in the midst of their union's first contract negotiations with the 23-campus university system.
The California Alliance of Academic Student Employees/United Auto Workers represents 6,000 teaching associates, graduate assistants and instructional student assistants. Both graduate and undergraduate students hold such positions, with duties including teaching courses and grading papers.
Cal State recognized the union in September, and negotiations over the first contract have been underway since November. Both sides said they agreed not to publicly discuss specifics of the talks.
The union said it called the strike because of unfair labor practices such as Cal State's failure to provide contact information for student workers and unspecified "unilateral changes to working conditions."
Cal State contends that the strike was illegal and merely a bargaining ploy.
Cal State officials said no classes or examinations were canceled because of the strike. "It didn't really disrupt the academic life of the universities," said spokeswoman Clara Potes-Fellow. She said only a dozen campuses reported strikes.
However, union spokesman Giuseppe Getto said students at all 23 campuses participated in the strike.
About a dozen graduate students protested outside the Cal State Los Angeles library Thursday morning.
Jennifer Kitson, 27, a graduate student in geography, said her main grievance is over compensation. Kitson said she earns $750 a month for each class she teaches. Until this quarter, she was also reimbursed for tuition.
This year, the tuition benefit was repealed, which prompted her to teach another course to make up for the loss.
Killian Ying, chairman of the geography department at Cal State Los Angeles and Kitson's boss, stopped by the picket line to chat with his students. He said having his graduate students take on more teaching interferes with their own studies, and reduces the number of teaching positions he can offer. "What they make is absolutely not a living wage," he said. "They need an increase in pay and health insurance."