Wednesday, August 21

Editorial: Librarians are latest employees to be deprioritized by UC’s anti-union actions


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The University of California checked out a book about fairness from its librarians 10 months ago.

It doesn’t seem intent on returning it – or paying any late fees.

The University Council-American Federation of Teachers Unit 17, the union representing UC librarians, and the UC Office of the President have been in contract negotiations for nearly a year. Librarians have been negotiating for a slew of demands: better pay, academic freedom and protection against the UC’s tendency to hire temporary workers to staff permanent positions, among other things.

UC-AFT seems to have been talking to a wall.

Thirteen bargaining sessions have gone by, and administrators seem to only have dug their heels in, rejecting the union’s many offers. Most recently, the union rejected UCOP’s efforts to extend its contract so as to bring administrators to the negotiating table and reach an agreement.

For a university system that prides itself on employing and empowering the California public, closing the door on employees is rather unflattering.

It’s also profoundly anti-union.

That’s been the rallying cry for administrators, though. From approving capital projects that will employ unionized University employees to taking up the ideological fights of union workers while denying them fair deals, the UC is making it remarkably clear that it’s union-busting season year-round at California’s premier public university system.

The most recent union grievances center around the University’s continued use of temporary workers in lieu of permanent employees, in which hired workers have to carry out the same work for significantly fewer benefits and lower wages.

Librarians are understandably less than pleased. The union filed a grievance against the University in May for abusing temporary contract positions in the Library Special Collections.

The union has also argued librarians get paid significantly less than those at other university systems. The UC’s entry-level librarians, for example, are paid 25.5 percent less than entry-level librarians at California State Universities, according to UC-AFT. There’s also librarians’ major concern about the University curtailing their ability to freely express themselves in their research, professional work and teaching without being retaliated against.

To no one’s surprise, the UC has resisted cooperation on these fronts and on the demands of its many other unions. Instead, it steamrolled over these unionized workers: It refused to give adequate pay to its workers, despite organized labor strikes in May by its lecturers’, laborers’ and nurses’ unions. It sidelined librarians who held a strike last summer to fight for academic freedom and better pay. It shored up defenses amid labor union strikes in the fall.

At the same time, administrators approved long-term campus development plans to handle increased loads of students, adopted librarians’ fight for open access of research by picking a fight with publishing giant Elsevier and watched as the United Teachers Los Angeles organized a historic strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District board that resulted in a comparatively speedy entry into negotiations.

Quite frankly, the University has appropriated the work and viewpoints of its workers without affording them fair wages or adequate benefits.

At least administrators’ anti-union grumblings have finally been made public.

Certainly, negotiating contracts requires tact, and refusing to accept deals is part of reaching a compromise. Yet the University has had more than enough time to take actionable, adequate steps toward an equitable contract. The continually failing negotiations show a new contract is the last thing on administrators’ minds.

But unions and their employees are here to stay. And the UC needs to wake up from its deficient daydreaming: It’s time to pay its dues.

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