California’s’s striking students resonate at U

by Kelly Hildebrandt

Teaching assistants on eight University of California campuses walked out Tuesday in order to gain union recognition by the administration. Graduate assistants at two other campuses in the system didn’t participate in the strike.
The teaching assistants have been threatening for months to strike if administrators didn’t recognize their union. They are fighting with administrators for collective bargaining, which could lead to better benefits and grievance procedures.
Members of Graduate Students Organizing Congress at the University of Minnesota are currently holding a signature drive to obtain a union vote for graduate assistants. In order to obtain one, they need signatures from 35 percent of eligible graduate assistants, graduate teaching assistants or graduate research assistants.
GradSOC members say already more than 35 percent of graduate assistants have signed union cards. They will vote today on whether to submit the signatures to the state Bureau of Mediation Services, which will check the signatures to ensure their validity.
Britt Abel, a member of GradSOC’s steering committee, said she supports the graduate students at the University of California. She said the situation at the University is different from California’s, so the chances of a graduate assistant strike at the University are very low.
The United Automobile Workers represents the eight TA unions in the University of California system. They will pay the striking teaching assistants $150 a week in strike benefits.
Although the UAW expects the strike to have an impact on teaching, administrators said they would handle the strike by either hiring replacement workers or extending the time allotted to grade final exams.
California officials argue that teaching assistants are primarily students and therefore aren’t eligible for collective bargaining.
In 1992, a state appellate court found that teaching assistants weren’t recognized as employees in the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. The statute says students are considered employees only if the work they do is unrelated to their education objectives.
If the eight campuses gain recognition, bargaining units for teaching assistants at universities around the country would increase from 18 to 26.