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UC, teaching assistants agree on contract, avert strike during exams

EducationNationUnionsLabor Disputes and Strikes
The UC student workers union had threatened to strike starting Saturday on the eve of finals
UC teaching assistants usually are paid $17,000 a year for working 20 or so hours a week

The University of California system has reached a tentative agreement on a new contract covering 13,000 teaching assistants, readers and tutors, lifting the threat of a 10-day strike during the coming final exam period at most UC campuses.

Leaders of the UC Student-Workers Union UAW Local 2865 and UC system representatives confirmed that the proposed new pact will last four years and provide pay raises and some improved benefits. A ratification vote is scheduled for next week.

Claiming unfair labor practices and intimidation, the union had threatened to strike starting Saturday on the eve of finals, which its members often monitor and grade. The union held a two-day walkout in April, during which 22 demonstrators at UC Santa Cruz were arrested.

"It's a good agreement," said Josh Brahinsky, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student and union activist. "It's something we are pretty happy about."

The union represents student workers at the nine UC undergraduate campuses. The strike would have affected the seven schools on the quarter-schedule.

"Both sides worked hard, and we're pleased to have reached this tentative agreement," Dwaine B. Duckett, UC vice president of human resources, said in statement. "We're even more pleased that our students will finish the school year without any more unnecessary disruptions, and will have the valued assistance of our academic student employees."

The four-year contract calls for raises of 5% the first year, 4% the second, 4% the third and 3% the final year, as well as for expanded leaves for new parents and better child-care subsidies. Graduate students who are teaching assistants usually are paid $17,000 a year for working 20 or so hours a week, officials said; tutors and readers typically earn between $12 and $20 an hour and work up to 10 hours a week.

But more important than pay increases, Brahinsky said, were other issues such as UC's agreement to work toward creating fellowships and other ways to aid graduate students who do not have legal immigration status. New committees of UC management and labor will be formed to study how class sizes affect education. In addition, gender-neutral bathrooms will be available within easy walking distance for employees who request them, a move to help transgender people.

The settlement follows a pattern over the last few months at UC of last-minute agreements averting strikes, including those threatened in March by unionized technical workers at UC medical centers.

It also marks a significant step toward achieving UC President Janet Napolitano's goal of bringing labor peace to the 10-campus system. Since she arrived in the job last fall, the former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security has helped to oversee multiyear agreements with 10 other unions at UC.

The only one unsettled labor situation is with the physicians, dentists and podiatrists who work at student clinics on campuses, officials said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com
Twitter: @larrygordonlat

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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