Student union turns to Capitol for help

Daily Sundial

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Members of the California Alliance of Academic Student Employees/United Auto Workers delivered petitions and letters to legislators at the state Capitol last week, asking for their help.

The letters, signed by a majority of the more than 6,000 teaching associates, graduate assistants, tutors and graders within the CSU system, asked that state legislators push the CSU for contracts that are consistent with the standard for unionized academic student employees across the country and in the University of California system.

Since October 2004, CAASE/UAW members have been negotiating with the CSU, but no agreement has yet been reached.

The issues in dispute include protection against an excessive workload, protection against dismissal without just cause, guaranteed wage increases, student fee waivers, health benefits, and access to basic information about union members, such as employee names.

“(The CSU) is trying to make this whole process as difficult as possible,” said Diana Andres, a teaching associate and graduate assistant in the Biology Department at CSUN, as well as a member of the bargaining committee for CAASE/UAW.

Andres said the CSU is being particularly firm about not granting academic student employees fee waivers for student fees. She said an academic student employee makes, on average, $518 per month, with a good portion of that money going toward paying student fees, a price other schools, particularly those in the UC system, do not have to pay.

Also in contention are wage increases, something the academic student assistants have not seen since 1991, Andres said. Budget cuts within the CSU are part of the reason.

“We’re being hit in several ways by this budget crisis,” Andres said.

CAASE/UAW members are hoping their appeals to state legislators will help advance their fight for fair contracts.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the legislators,” said Xochitl Lopez, an organizer for CAASE/UAW and a student at Sacramento State University.

Lopez said she hopes legislators will help persuade the CSU to “give the student employees more meaningful contract proposals.”

Members of the group have informed the CSU that it is imperative that contract negotiations are completed before the end of April so that members on the bargaining committee can approve the contract before they leave for summer break.

However, if a resolution is not established soon, Lopez said some academic student employees will go on strike.

“People are extremely agitated right now, waiting as long as they have (for a contract),” said Lopez. “If (the CSU) continues with (its) unfair practices, a strike will happen.”

In December 2004, CAASE/UAW members held a one-day unfair labor practice strike, to prepare for the possibility of a future strike.

“It will hurt the students if the (teaching associates) and other assistants go on strike,” said Clara Potes-Fellow, spokesperson for the CSU. “It’s a selfish way of looking at things.”

Contract negotiations between CAASE/UAW and the CSU are scheduled for April 26 and 28.

“We’re hoping that this will be the chance for us to come to an agreement,” Potes-Fellow said.