With final exams approaching, an organization representing about 9,000 University of California teaching assistants, readers and tutors said Sunday that its members will go on strike this week if the university does not accept their 15-year-old demand for union recognition.
Officials of the Student Assn. of Graduate Employees, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers union, said the strike will begin Tuesday at all University of California campuses, except the medical and health sciences school in San Francisco.
The association also announced that the action would continue at the eight campuses through the end of the fall term if the university does not grant its members the right to collective bargaining.
"We want to sit down at the table and have a fair say in the terms and conditions of our employment," said Connie Razza, an association board member and teaching assistant at UCLA. "The work we do is vital to the operation of the university."
Over the last 15 years, however, the association has been rebuffed repeatedly in its effort to bargain with the university.
In a formal statement issued last week, Richard C. Atkinson, president of the University of California, said the system considers teaching assistants as "principally" students, not employees, and therefore not entitled to collective bargaining.
Unionizing teaching assistants "would disrupt the collegial relationships between students and faculty that are so critical to graduate work," Atkinson said in a Nov. 23 letter to university officials, faculty and staff.
In Southern California, university figures show, there are 1,225 teaching assistants and 268 readers and tutors at UCLA; 792 teaching assistants and 183 tutors and readers at UC Irvine; and 427 teaching assistants and 49 readers and tutors at UC Riverside.
According to UC estimates, assistants actually teach about 15% of undergraduate courses. But association officials point out that the assistants are responsible for about 60% of all face-to-face instruction on the undergraduate level.
They earn about $14,000 for half-time work over nine months and the equivalent of $4,000 more in benefits, including student fees and health insurance.
Association officials say a majority of UC's teaching assistants, readers and tutors favor union representation. At UC Irvine, for example, a majority of the 975 teaching assistants, tutors and readers signed cards this year supporting unionization.
If there is a walkout, it will occur as the university system heads into final exams--one of the busiest times of the academic year.
Association officials asserted Sunday that a strike will dramatically demonstrate how important teaching assistants are to the university system.
"You would think officials of a prestigious institution of higher education would prefer negotiations and dialogue as a means of resolving problems, but after 15 years of trying that approach without success, we have no alternative but to turn to a systemwide strike," said Dan Rounds, an association leader and political science teaching assistant at UCLA.
UC Irvine officials said a strike might impact some courses but predicted that the overall effect on undergraduate education will be minimal and that campus life would be largely unaffected.
"We expect there will a be a few courses where faculty will have to mobilize colleagues to get final exams graded and as a result there might there might be some delay in getting grades in," said professor William Parker, associate executive vice chancellor.
Times staff writers Peter Warren and Kenneth R. Weiss contributed to this report.