A year after settling the largest strike in U.S. higher education, the University of California reclassified thousands of affected workers in ways that drastically cut their pay, raising pressure for more job action, union leaders warn.
After months of trying to talk to system leaders about the dangers of avoiding compliance with the contract, hundreds of graduate student workers rallied on Berkeley’s main campus and visited deans to personally push them for in a resolution.
While continuing a strike is not a first option, the turnout suggests a growing level of dissatisfaction among graduate students, whose teaching and research work provides a critical supplement to faculty, said Ruby Kharod, a graduate student in chemistry at the University. in California, Berkeley.
The idea of a renewed walkout is “still on the table”, Ms Kharod said. “But I think the university would be foolish not to resolve this internally, because the contract is set and they just have to follow it.”
The strike last November, involving about 48,000 academic workers, lasted six weeks. The walkout produced a new three-year contract that promised to raise starting salaries, from about $22,000 (£18,000) to $35,500 for graduate student researchers, and from about $23,000 to $34,000 for research assistants. teaching, with good benefits in areas including health care, child care and transportation.
But California’s system has avoided higher pay levels in hundreds of cases by systematically misclassifying workers, especially in their early years, Ms Kharod and other union officials said.
Examples, Ms Kharod said, include graduate students involved in teaching, who used to be paid as associate professors, but are now paid as teaching assistants. In his department, he said, that amounted to an annual salary cut of about $2,000.
Graduate student researchers who are paid with fellowships are also being reclassified to receive lower wages, according to the union that represents graduate students. In total, the union said, the tactic affected about 1,500 graduate students at Berkeley and thousands more across the system, costing them “hundreds of dollars a month”.
System officials said the university was “aware of the concerns expressed about pay and job titles” and was working to address them, but declined to say whether the reclassifications were intentional. workers to suppress wages.
“We continue to work through matters to implement the contract in good faith, within the terms of the contract and within the law,” the university said.
Part of the problem, union leaders say, is that the system accepts the contract without identifying how the extra money will be paid. For workers involved in research, their salaries often come from fixed grant amounts and, while many departments use their endowments to bolster the low salaries of graduate students , the contract is not clear on how to calculate the forward amounts.
The chairman of the Berkeley Faculty Association, James Vernon, a history professor, said he sympathized with the graduate students, watching them struggle to get answers. “It’s really important that the university finds a systemic solution to honoring the contract, rather than leaving it up to individual faculty or individual departments to find ways to honor it,” Professor Vernon said.
The dispute comes as labor actions and threats continue on US campuses. One of the biggest was also in California, where teachers of the 23-campus, 450,000-student system of California State University authorized a strike.