UC lecturers around California held a day of action Saturday to draw attention to their ongoing bargaining with UC leadership over their contract.
The day of action was organized by the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, a union that represents lecturers, program coordinators, supervisors of teacher education and librarians in the UC system, according to its website. Since April 2019, UC-AFT lecturers have been trying to renew their contract with the UC system, which expired Jan. 31, and negotiate more job security.
Union members are hoping to get students involved in the fight for their contract. Whereas lecturers at other UC campuses held car caravans, the UC Berkeley lecturers are circulating a petition in support of their contract, according to Crystal Chang, a lecturer at UC Berkeley and UC-AFT Local 1474 member. In less than a week, it had obtained more than 600 signatures.
“Students take the classes with the lecturer and they start to develop a relationship, and then that lecturer is gone,” Chang said. “Students rely on lectures to be mentors, to help with thesis projects, to write letters of recommendation. And so, it’s better if there’s a more stable teaching force for undergraduate education.”
As the contract stands, when UC lecturers are hired, for the first six years they are on semesterly or annual contracts that can be renewed — or not — at the discretion of the university, Chang said. After the sixth year, they can become continuing lecturers after being reviewed.
Continuing lecturers can still be fired but don’t need a new contract every year, according to Chang.
“Because of the pandemic, we have decided to put aside our demand for higher salaries,” Chang said. “The main thing that we’re hoping to secure in a short-term contract is better job stability.”
According to UC Office of the President spokesperson Sarah McBride, the University of California has offered lecturers “fair compensation and benefits.” It has also proposed a path to becoming a senior continuing lecturer with some increased job security, medical leave for more unit members and a program to allow lecturers to give early interest in teaching specific courses, McBride said.
McBride added that union leaders have not accepted these proposals.
“UC has been bargaining with the UC-AFT for more than a year and believes a contract for our lecturers is long overdue,” McBride said in an email. “We think the more recent offers have been especially fair in light of the significant impacts employers everywhere are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
UC-AFT is proposing that lecturers are initially hired on a one-year contract, and if upon review they are shown to be performing up to standard, they get a two-year contract, and then a three-year contract, Chang said.
Unlike tenure-track faculty, lecturers are hired to solely teach without also doing research. At UC San Diego, 40% of classes are taught by lecturers, who make up less than 10% of UCSD faculty, said Alison Black, a lecturer at UCSD and a co-chair of UC-AFT Local 2034.
“Honestly, it makes us feel like what we are is gig workers,” Chang said. “When they need us they hire us, when they don’t need us, they don’t hire us. They want to maintain that flexibility. From their perspective, that’s beneficial. From our standpoint, we think it’s totally debilitating.”