A month after new contract, UAW members’ concerns about bargaining process persist
United Auto Worker union members walk a picket line. Many academic workers expressed dissatisfaction with union’s internal handling of the bargaining process with the University of California. (Myka Fromm/Daily Bruin)
By Catherine Hamilton
Feb. 2, 2023 11:28 p.m.
Rank-and-file members of several United Auto Workers unions expressed dissatisfaction with issues of marginalization, bullying and suppression they said they experienced during internal negotiations to ratify a new contract with the University of California.
On Dec. 23, UAW Local 2865 and Student Researchers United-UAW separately ended their nearly six-week long strikes and ratified new contracts with the UC, with nearly 62% and 69% of rank-and-file members voting yes on the agreements, respectively. Agreements for all three unions, as UAW Local 5810 reached an agreement Dec. 9, included pay increases, increased childcare benefits and anti-harassment clauses.
But multiple units at UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced and UC Santa Barbara rejected their proposals by large margins, voicing discontent with their bargaining team members’ decisions to concede on lower wages and cut representative clauses.
Despite having opportunities to speak throughout the negotiation process, many rank-and-file members felt their representatives were not listening to their concerns, said Adam Moore, a pathobiology doctoral candidate at UC Davis and member of UAW Local 2865 and SRU-UAW. Internal bargaining sessions to decide on proposals were open to all members of the unions, and a caucus was held after for members to express desires, support and concerns to the bargaining units, he said.
“It seemed like it didn’t matter how many times or how many different people shared their really personal and sometimes traumatic stories,” Moore said. “My impression was that their minds had already been made up, and caucus was just a space for us to talk to ourselves.”
Janna Haider, a history doctoral student at UCSB and member of the UAW Local 2865 bargaining team, said she believed the contract would not make enough changes to ease the rent burden at her campus. She added that she was against many decisions ultimately made by the bargaining team and organized people to vote no against the contract.
Even before the strike began, Haider said union meetings felt more like presentations from the bargaining team on decisions already made rather than a collaborative space to discuss. This was especially felt in the setup of the strike itself, she added.
“The statewide UAW infrastructure insisted on 20 hours a week (of picket duties) … (and) really wanted to prioritize the in-person picket line, as if standing around outside is the thing that indicates how strong the strike is,” she said. “Santa Barbara was the only campus that had an infrastructure for an online picket for workers who are disabled (or) who are parents who live far away from campus.”
Nick Geiser, a physics doctoral student and member of the SRU-UAW bargaining team, said in an emailed statement that the union allowed opportunities for democratic input through surveys, votes and open bargaining sessions. At UCLA, bargaining team members spoke directly with their peers, held collaborative discussions and engaged rank-and-file members throughout the process, he said, adding that the units recognize there is still work to be done.
“We of course agree that the fight against rent burden is not over, and as a union we are taking our political fight for housing justice to the state legislature in Sacramento while gearing up for our next round of negotiations in 2025,” he said in the emailed statement.
However, Haider said there was heavy pressure from many members of the bargaining team to finish negotiations quickly, resulting in a final contract that did not immediately raise wages and instead forced all workers to wait until the spring to receive new levels of pay.
Throughout negotiations, some members felt their whole identities were not represented or respected in the final outcome.
Moore, who has a disability, said he officially decided to vote no when the language in a portion of the contract guaranteeing access rights for disabled workers was changed to instead offer reasonable accommodations, implying that a UC staff member could decide what disability accommodations are reasonable, rather than the workers themselves.
The original contract proposal would have eliminated the need for medical documentation as proof of disability and would have streamlined the funding process for access needs, such as different desks in laboratories, he said.
“One big issue that kind of prolonged the process (of getting a different desk) was trying to figure out who was going to pay for it,” Moore said. “It ended up coming down to my lab paying for it with grant money instead of the university, who was my actual employer, … because they just said they had no money.”
The article for disabled workers was eventually reduced to result in few changes from the previous contract, Moore said, adding that the overall contract progressively got weaker despite the bargaining teams promising they would fight for benefits such as cost-of-living adjustments and higher childcare stipends.
Nevertheless, there were some wins, Haider said, such as the non-discrimination article she helped co-author, which allows workers to file grievances over sexual violence and harassment. The University originally attempted to exclude the article, though it ultimately stayed in the contract, she added.
But Haider said she also faced frequent backlash from other members of the bargaining team when disagreeing with their contract choices.
“I’m a woman of color, so I certainly was called aggressive and violent in ways that a lot of my white colleagues were not,” she said. “I had to leave an in-person bargaining space because I didn’t feel safe.”
Geiser said the UC UAW Code of Conduct clearly prohibits bullying and harassment, and that the bargaining teams condemn this behavior.
There is now a ratified union contract that fails to address unsustainable living conditions and systemic inequality, Haider said, adding that it will be difficult for the unions to rebuild a collaborative relationship with its rank-and-file members.
“There kept being these sessions where rank-and-file workers on Zoom all across the state were begging their bargaining team representatives to stop moving on wages,” Haider said. “A bargaining team representative from the Student Researchers United team said, ‘As your representatives, we are listening to your concerns, we just don’t agree with them.’”