I was late. We can call it fashionably late.
I arrived at the University of California, Riverside campus around 12:15 p.m. on Friday, March 6. Since I am not teaching at UCR this quarter, I do not have an up-to-date parking permit, which means I had to pay for parking. I parked in lot 24 and walked the length of the lot, maybe 400 meters, to reach the kiosk. The maximum time you can purchase a permit for from the lot 24 kiosk is, for reasons unknown to me, two hours. I paid for the permit, walked the quarter mile back to my car, placed the permit printout on the dashboard of my 2004 Pontiac Grand Am, and started walking back in the direction I had come from, back toward the kiosk and toward campus.
I was not sure where I was going. Bargaining was supposed to take place from 9 a.m. to noon, and then again from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. or so, inside room 3023 in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Interdisciplinary North building. I knew I was not going to make it to the morning session of negotiations, but I figured I would be there for the rally and then observe negotiations in the afternoon. The bargaining rally was scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. that day near the new Roy McMakin Art Installation. Having not taught on campus this winter quarter, I was unaware what had changed, as my few trips to UCR lately have only involved, in the main, direct treks to and from the library. Yet, as the new sculpture says, “Things Change” (and, in a nod to agency, “Change Things”).
It really did not matter that I had no clue where I was headed as I made my way to campus. The nearly 5,000 square foot “art” structure was hard to miss. No offense to San Diego-based artist Roy McMakin – I gather he is brilliant – but the installation seems to stand out to passersby less because of the majestic beauty of the project and more because of the off-putting yellow-colored steel signs and poles that capture attention through unpleasant contrast with the surrounding nature and buildings. Although the artist designed the installation to encourage community (I could see that) and set it up in such a way that people can congregate under and within it, the fact the project appears to have far exceeded the $1 million in funds initially allotted for its creation no doubt detracts from its appeal.
The area around the art structure stood out to me when I arrived too, but for good reasons. A few organizers and members of UC-AFT, the union representing lecturers and librarians across the UC system, spoke to those gathered with the help of a megaphone. These were all relatively short statements intended to rally those in attendance. I missed the speech delivered by Mia McIver, the president of UC-AFT and the lead negotiator for the union’s table team involved in bargaining our next contract. I gather, though, that she excited the small crowd of students, graduate students and lecturers concentrated under the concentric circle design of the installation on concrete benches. After listening to speakers, people helped themselves to pizza and other snacks provided by the union.
I spoke with some other members of UC-AFT Local 1966, the union local representing non-Senate faculty (also known as “lecturers,” and as “teaching faculty,” and oft-referred to in negotiations by the acronym “NSF”) and librarians at UCR. I discovered that the bargaining team representing the University of California Office of the President, otherwise referred to as UCOP or the UC administration, failed to meet in INTN 3023 that morning, as the team’s had agreed to do. The rally on campus the day before in support of the struggle for a cost of living adjustment – that is, another COLA campaign action – first waged by graduate student organizers at UC Santa Cruz and now spreading throughout the UC system with the hashtag #cola4all, purportedly spooked the UCOP team. Evidently, they were spooked enough that they initially refused to meet on campus that morning. The administration’s negotiators essentially stood us up. The UCOP team did agree to sit down at the table in the afternoon, though.
This was not the first time the administration effectively communicated that the sacrifices the working lecturers on our union’s bargaining team make do not matter. The UCOP team arrived late – fashionably late in their view, I’m sure – the last time our union sat down at the table with them, in Davis on January 31, the day our previous contract expired.
UCOP procrastination aside, a bargaining session did commence a little after 1 p.m. that Friday.
Just under 10 negotiators for each team sat at the table.
Observers also packed the room. As many as 30 or 40 people sat in chairs against the wall encircling the bargaining table. Not surprisingly, next-to-no observers showed up to support UCOP. The session started with introductions. Going around the room, observers shared their names and their affiliations with the university. I mentioned I was a lecturer who teaches in the Media and Cultural Studies Department at UCR, when I can get classes.
A reporter for the student newspaper was one of the last to introduce herself. The UCOP team pressured the student reporter to leave. McIver clarified that, contra UC administration, UC-AFT had no problem with student press reporting on negotiations.
I am not sure if this piece qualifies as reporting, but I see no problem with recollecting what occurred. As a writer, or more accurately and less pretentiously, as someone who tries to write on occasion, when some party tries to bar me from writing about a subject, I think that might just motivate me that much more to put together a piece on the taboo subject matter.
Having noted that, throughout the approximately four hours of negotiations, I noticed a theme. The administration’s team repeatedly referred to their proposals with excessively enthusiastic language. One UCOP negotiator referred to a formula they put forward as one “meant to be advantageous to the employee.” One of the UCOP table team members bookended a statement about the administration’s proposal with “so that’s an improvement.” A UCOP negotiator claimed “this language should really make a change, make a difference.” And one contended that the UCOP aim was “to ensure that more people are benefits eligible by including this language.”
Of course, asserting something does not necessarily make it true. Merely highlighting a few changes that might be somewhat advantageous to lecturers hardly qualifies as significant gains for Unit 18 non-Senate faculty.
It almost seemed like the UCOP team was trying to put their own not-so-subtle public relations spin on proposals in hopes that our union would be eternally grateful and spellbound by UC management’s putative largesse.
I do not think it worked.
Early discussion at the table focused on the administration’s offers regarding paid parental bonding leave. While the university seemed less keen on increasing the pay for parental leave, the UCOP team did appear to agree with enlarging the scope of who would qualify for that paid leave by making all parents eligible – what seemed to me an obvious concession to make.
In addition, the administration was keen on stressing that the proposed contract change to provide paid leave to some NSF not working full-time but who are otherwise eligible for benefits was a really big deal.
The UCOP team also rejected a proposal to offer lecturers with a documented career of service paid leave for professional development.
The UCOP team offered their position on summer session appointments as well. Per current contract language, lecturers cannot count classes taught during summer sessions toward their overall quarter counts that matter when we go up for review for a continuing reappointment. The UCOP team did not agree to alter that formula to permit NSF to count summer session quarters toward their overall quarter total in general, but they did agree to allow NSF to use summer terms to make up for quarters the NSF might have missed.
Again, the UCOP team more or less equated these concessions to monumental institutional transformation. The reality, as best I could discern, remains far less sanguine.
The UCOP negotiators also went through their positions on benefits, as well as issues of discipline and dismissal.
With respect to the latter, McIver emphasized the extremely precarious positions pre-continuing lecturers continue to inhabit – an issue hitherto unresolved.
Then, something interesting and somewhat unexpected happened.
McIver and the chief negotiator for the UCOP team engaged in a heated back and forth regarding the wildcat strike in Santa Cruz and University of California President Janet Napolitano’s decision to fire some 80 graduate student workers. McIver let everyone in the room know that UC-AFT “abhorred the termination of those TAs.”
She clarified that the union “also submitted a demand to bargain over the effects of these firings for our members,” which the administration has so far dismissed.
McIver proceeded to list several of the myriad effects the termination of TAs will likely have on Unit 18 faculty.
From increased instructional and administrative workload for lecturers, to increased workload related to communication about the course, to impacts on student teaching evaluations, to possible infractions of academic freedom, to the needs for increased office hour times, to class size issues arising from changes in the student-instructor-ratio, to delays in employment notification because of hiring freezes, the potential affects abound. Moreover, as McIver told those sitting across the table, “that’s just a partial list.”
“The terminations will likely necessitate some course redesigns,” she added, and also noted the following: “Naturally, none of the effects I just identified compare to the effects on the terminated TAs themselves.”
The UCOP team responded in a predictably condescending manner. “Mia,” their chief negotiator intoned, “we will not bargain with you over the strike.” The exact words might have been slightly different. Yet the message was the same.
“We as individuals and as a union stand in complete solidarity with UAW 2865,” McIver stated in response to the other side’s knee-jerk refusal to acknowledge the real problems for NSF caused by UC management’s controversial mismanagement of the strike and COLA campaign.
To be sure, spending several million dollars to hire riot police who arrested graduate students on the picket lines suggests a more nefarious, creeping authoritarianism than mere “mismanagement,” which strikes me as too euphemistic in this context.
Unwilling to cede the issue to UC management without a struggle, McIver went on to underscore the conditions affecting teaching faculty and graduate student workers alike.
“Part of our bargaining campaign,” McIver announced at the table, “is closely aligned with the goals of COLA for all.”
The exchange between the chief negotiator, as well as McIver’s comments on the matter, sparked applause from observers, including several socially conscious undergrads in attendance and two UAW Local 2865 members seated near me.
I do not doubt that UCOP probably dismissed the indignation as spectacle. Perhaps it was. But it was a necessary spectacle, a spectacular display of solidarity that communicated to UC management just where we stand. Plus the crowd loved it. Sometimes you have to give folks what they want. That is especially true when you value and want the same things – like a dramatic increase in the standard of living for those who work, teach and learn at a University of California campus.
When the UCOP table team stated the firing of graduate students had not negatively affected lecturers, McIver corrected them and confirmed that UC-AFT believes in “bargaining for the common good.”
“Again we’re here to bargain in good faith with the AFT,” was the administration’s dismissive response.
Our union’s team pointed out the overlap in what happens between bargaining units. The UCOP team insisted on limits to what happens in bargaining. McIver fired back that the university is trying to determine those limits. The administration stressed that they would consider the union’s comments, but their table team also highlighted that decisions regarding the COLA movement and the strike remain their decisions to make. McIver stated formally, for UCOP, that “the way the university has been dealing with graduate students is completely unacceptable.”
The dialectical tension at the table continued for a good five minutes. The energy in the room was palpable.
After McIver demanded, to no avail, that the university immediately invest in its teaching mission and bargain with the union over the aforementioned effects, both sides agreed to a half hour caucus.
The UCOP team left the room. I got some coffee.
The UC-AFT table team took time during the caucus to discuss what transpired with fellow union members, graduate students and undergraduate students who just witnessed nuanced, and at times dense, deliberation followed by a forcefully articulated challenge to UC management’s hegemony.
After returning from the caucus, the UC-AFT team presented the UCOP table team with a proposal regarding compensation that involved moving from a range to a table/scale concept.
A quick caucus occurred at around 3:40 p.m. Students helped themselves to tortilla chips and scones. I helped myself to more coffee.
Upon return, the UC-AFT team clarified that the compensation proposal was intended to be consistent with the union’s other proposal regarding salary increases.
Discussion shifted to another union proposal regarding pay scale bumps for Unit 18 faculty who earn a terminal degree during the course of employment. Discussion and attempts at clarification followed. Another quick caucus took place around 3:50 p.m.
The two teams then proceeded to go over the proposal regarding compensation increases for terminal degree conferral at length.
A UCOP negotiator called the proposal a “curveball” while Ben Harder, a seasoned UC-AFT negotiator, reminded UCOP there were two salary increases in the last contract and added that he was not sure why the administration was surprised that the union’s proposal for a salary increase would be higher than what their team proposed.
One last issue raised at the table worth noting has to do with the union’s request that the university fund education on a continuous basis. The UC administration pointed out possible exceptions, and Harder spoke up again to repeat what UCOP surely knows but remains reluctant to acknowledge – that plenty of the problems we face today stem from the pernicious effects of temporary, non-permanent funding for programs.
The room for negotiations was only reserved until 5 p.m., so negotiations could only continue until shortly after that time.
By the end, the number of observers had dwindled, but committed parts of the campus community stuck around until it was all over.
Members of both teams left soon after the session concluded. Some had long commutes to make. Some had to get back to the airport; a union member observing the bargaining had volunteered earlier, during the session, to drive one UC-AFT table member to the airport to catch a flight before negotiations even concluded. Timing and travel arrangements can be tricky in these contexts.
I realized as I was walking back to the parking lot that my two-hour parking permit had expired more than two hours ago. Not only was I fashionably late in arriving for the bargaining rally. I was also fashionably late returning to my vehicle within the time allotted for parking by my permit.
I crossed my fingers and hoped that parking enforcement had ignored lot 24 this afternoon. They had not.
I now owe UCR Transportation and Parking Services $42. If I fail to pay within 21 days the fine increases to a $52 late fee plus a $21 processing fee. The ticket reminded me that we really ought to bargain over parking at some point too, considering how lecturers pay hundreds of dollars each academic year just to park where they work.
I guess that is another issue pertaining to higher education work and life that will have to be addressed another day.
Stay current with UC-AFT negotiations by following the union’s bargaining blog here.
James Anderson is an adjunct professor working in Southern California. He is from Illinois but now tries each semester to cobble together classes to teach at various SoCal colleges and universities. He has recently taught classes in the Communication Studies Department at Riverside City College and in the Media and Cultural Studies Department at the University of California, Riverside. He also taught a class at the California Rehabilitation Center during the fall 2019 semester as part of the Norco College prison education program. He has worked as a freelance writer for several outlets.