UW IN A CRISIS: A CALL TO ACTION by For a Democratic University

. Thursday, March 11, 2010

Statement put out by FaDU regarding recent contract negotiations go to forademocraticuniversity.blogspot.com for more!

by For A Democratic University, an independent graduate student labor group

The University is in a crisis – but who’s paying for it? While students were striking on March 4th, negotiations were taking place between the UAW (the union representing TAs, RAs, graders, and writing tutors) and the University administration. The union is beginning its bargaining for a new contract for the workers it represents. This contract sets the base pay, benefits, and working conditions for thousands of academic student employees (ASEs) at UW.

What is our union’s bargaining team asking for?
1. Increase earnings for all ASEs to keep pace with increases in cost of living, work requirements and peer wages
2. Secure improvements to the current health program, such that services are adequately covered, ASEs with extraordinary costs are protected, dependents are more affordably covered and plan administration is improved
3. Ensure that ASEs' ability to maintain quality in their jobs is not hindered by inadequate staffing or resources.

A strong contract should not stop here! FaDU also demands:
1. Free, quality childcare for all ASE’s
2. Smaller class sizes for teaching assistants; no class size increase due to “budget cuts”
3. The same health insurance plan offered to permanent UW employees.

However, the University has responded to the union bargaining team with regressive cuts and punitive takeaways:
1. Elimination of wage increases
2. Weakening of layoff protections for ASEs who have already been offered appointments
3. Changes to variable pay practices, such that ASEs currently being paid above base rates could be dropped to lower pay rates
4. Placing the burden of paying health insurance premiums upon ASEs.

Mark Emmert keeps telling us to lobby Olympia and that Olympia is the problem when it comes to budget cuts. Yet at the opening of bargaining, the UW administration attacked our union on its political work in Olympia against privatization of tuition setting authority (the defeated “Kilmer bill” would have transferred tuition control from the legislature to the un-elected UW Board of Regents). Is the University administration retaliating against our union for lobbying in Olympia? Is Mark Emmert acting in good faith when he tells us to organize in Olympia and not on campus?

At every contract negotiation, the administration always demands cuts – they say this is to increase productivity, but for us it means more work under worse conditions and lowers the quality of education for everyone. An economic crisis, when job prospects are insecure and budget cuts seem inevitable, is the perfect opportunity for UW administration to demand deeper cuts to grad student workers than ever before. But what we really need right now are better working conditions, and we need improvements beyond what the union has asked for. We need a quality health insurance plan like the one offered to permanent university employees – our current plan doesn't even cover basic preventive care. We need small class sizes so that we can actually teach; many TAs currently teach to 50-150 students. And we need childcare – the cost of which currently consumes our entire paycheck. The University partially subsidizes childcare for students, but the wait list can take years.

We do essential work for this university, from writing multi-million research grants to teaching quiz sections and full classes, but we are also at the lowest end of the salary scale. Mark Emmert earns a whopping $900,000 per year while a typical research assistant earns $20,000 annually. Mark Emmert’s job is not the most important on campus! Without our labor in the classrooms, in the labs, in university writing centers, the university would not function. This is the power that UW administration will respond to, not to charts that show how poor we are or how the budget cuts have hurt us. Administration already knows this; they write our paychecks! Our labor is our power.

What can we do fight for the wage increases, better health care, smaller class sizes, and child care that we need? The University has entered negotiations aggressively; they've shown us that they will not give in unless we demonstrate that campus business can't and won't continue without us. Therefore, it is crucial that we build a strong movement of all workers that will force the University to compromise their exploitative plans to OUR demands, not the other way around. Ultimately we will need to strike, but this is something we have to build toward.

Here are some steps that For a Democratic University proposes:

“Grade-in” March 16, 1-5pm, HUB 1st floor (by info desk): Grade and work together as we tally how much money we make for the UW
March 31, 3:30 PM, South Campus Center (behind Health Sciences): Picket outside the first union / administration bargaining meeting of spring quarter.
April 5, 5 PM, Smith 205: Grad student general assembly
Week of April 12, time/place TBA: Special panel on with international students for immigrants’ rights!
April 30: End of contract negotiations.
May 3: First Monday after negotiations end. UAW members strike!

For A Democratic University faduni@gmail.com ~ http://forademocraticuniversity.blogspot.com/


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