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January 21, 1999

Atkinson issues statement about end of 'cooling-off' period for TA strike

The 45-day cooling off period was called in December to halt a four-day strike by some teaching assistants at UC campuses

From UC President Richard C. Atkinson:

As proposed by Senator Burton and Speaker Villaraigosa, the university and the UAW have held a series of talks about issues related to the strike in December by some teaching assistants. The four meetings that occurred during the cooling-off period were useful, in the university's view, to the extent that they gave each party a better understanding of the other's concerns.

The university attempted during the talks to initiate a dialogue about the specific concerns of graduate students, in areas such as workload, pay, and working conditions. The UAW stated it was not willing to discuss these matters unless it was acting as the exclusive representative of teaching assistants. The university heard and considered the UAW's arguments for the unionization of teaching assistants but was not persuaded that collective bargaining for TAs would not interfere with the university's educational mission. Finally, the university offered to engage in a cooperative effort to expedite a legal review of the issues; the union refused.

UC greatly values the contributions of teaching assistants. The university provides them with highly competitive compensation, full coverage of health insurance premiums, exemptions from general fee increases, and both formal and informal means of hearing grievances. We remain committed to addressing the concerns of graduate students about their TA appointments.

The university bargains collectively with 23 units representing approximately 50,000 employees systemwide. Good relations with our employees and their representatives are important to us. We have already stated our intention to proceed with collective bargaining for readers and tutors--positions that are not integral to a student's own educational program and for which faculty members serve primarily as supervisors, as opposed to educational mentors.

However, after a thorough review of the UAW's demand to represent teaching assistants, the university's position remains that collective bargaining for TAs is not in the educational interest of the university and its students, both undergraduate and graduate. We continue to believe that graduate student TAs are associated with the University of California primarily for educational purposes and that their TA appointments are an integral part of that education. By submitting issues of academic discretion to the bargaining table, the collective bargaining process for teaching assistants could interfere with the educational objectives of TA appointments, disrupt the collegial relationships between faculty members and graduate students, and intrude upon the academic decision making that is at the core of university life.

Last month, the state Public Employment Relations Board issued a decision indicating that collective bargaining is appropriate for teaching assistants at UCLA. This finding conflicts with an earlier state appellate court decision that the California Supreme Court declined to review. As a result, the university believes that a new court review of these issues is necessary. We are seeking that review, and we hope that the judicial process will produce a result that is consistent with the university's educational mission. In the meantime, we will continue our discussions with students, faculty members, and other interested parties in an effort to promote dialogue about the issues involved.

Go to UCSC's Web page on the issue of teaching assistant unionization

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