CSU and academic student employee union sign contract

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Successful negotiations between United Auto Workers Local 4123 and the California State University ended in the approval of a new contract for more than 6,000 academic student employees Aug. 1.

Teaching associates, graduate assistants and instructional student assistants at the CSU now have more security in their employment within the system.

Included in the contract are mandatory salary increases of 3.5 percent in 2005, 3 percent in 2006 and 4 percent in 2007. Along with salary increases are new policies regarding benefits and union grievances.

The new contract follows a brief history of anger on the part of many in the California Alliance of Academic Student Employees.

The union was set to strike earlier in May, citing “numerous unfair labor practices,” according to Xochitl Lopez, UAW spokesperson. In May, Lopez said the main grievances of the academic student employees dealt with poor wages, long hours, appointment rights and health benefits.

However, the strike did not occur.

“An agreement was reached on a tentative contract, and most of the unfair labor practices stopped,” Lopez said.

The agreement, no longer tentative, was ratified by the CSU Board of Trustees and UAW Local 4123. Both sides in the contract negotiation process said they consider the agreement successful.

“It is fundamentally important that academic student employees have rights,” Lopez said less than three weeks after the contract’s approval. “We are already beginning to see big changes in working conditions. A contract makes a big difference.”

Clara Potes-Fellow, CSU spokesperson, said she was very impressed with the degree of professionalism the UAW bargaining committee displayed.

“It was a historic event,” she said. “This is the first time a student-organized union has reached an agreement with CSU.”

UAW is the only unit that exclusively represents student employees in the CSU.

Fee waiver negotiations also were discussed in the contract.

Due to budget limitations of the CSU system, delegated by the Legislature and the governor, fee waivers will be negotiated again in 2006.

“If we judge by what has happened thus far, the future negotiations with CSU student employees in this union will be a good process with a lot of give and take,” Potes-Fellow said.

Potes-Fellow said UAW’s threat to strike earlier this year was not considered a real strike.

“They used it as a bargaining tool, but were very professional about it,” she said. “Now they got what they wanted, and it was a positive process, especially for this brand new union.”

Lopez and the other UAW Local 4123 members are assessing steps for the next round of contract negotiations.

“Membership in the union is key to defending the contract,” Lopez said. “The benefits of the contract are given to all student employees represented by the union, regardless if they are members of the union or not.”

Chris Daines can be reached at city@sundial.csun.edu.