One of my GSI’s (Graduate Student Instructor) is the head of the Political Science GSI union of UC Berkeley and she forwarded this email to us all. Please read it so you know what your GSI’s are striking over.
As I mentioned to you in class last week, the union that represents GSIs (and tutors and readers) at all of the UC campuses will be on strike Wednesday, April 2 and Thursday, April 3. We are striking over the University’s continued refusal to bargain over class size during our contract negotiations.
I will be participating in the strike, and therefore I will not be holding my Wednesday sections or holding my Thursday office hours, nor responding to student emails during those days.
What is the strike about?
The strike is not directed against specific departments or faculty, but rather at the UC’s policies and practices during bargaining. (The strike also pertains to two instances in which UC violated labor law when dealing with GSIs. Our union has filed formal unfair labor practice complaints with the California Public Employee Relations Board over all three of these issues.)
The GSI union (UAW 2865) has been in negotiations with representatives of the UC for several months now over a new employment contract that covers our wages and working conditions. (GSIs at the UC have been unionized since 1999 and renegotiate the terms of our employment every three years.)
As it currently stands, our employment contract says nothing about the number of students we can teach, only the number of hours we can work. Section enrollment limits are set by individual academic departments. UAW has suggested a clause in our new contract stating that GSIs have the right to “meet and discuss” student-teacher ratios with department chairs. This language does not bind department chairs to any sort of negotiations with GSIs over class size; it merely creates a formal channel for discussion and feedback.
However, UC bargaining representatives insist that class size does not directly affect GSI working conditions and, therefore, is a matter of “management prerogative” that they do not have to bargain over. During bargaining, they have gone so far as to say that “a good teacher can teach, regardless of class size.” We disagree.
How does this affect you?
As class sizes increase, the responsibility for ensuring the quality of UC students’ experiences falls increasingly on GSIs—we can work additional hours for no pay in order to give you all sufficient face time and provide adequate feedback on your work, or we can force you to do without our assistance in order to maintain a reasonable workload. Having the opportunity to present our concerns collectively to our departments, instead of managing them individually, is important for maintaining positive learning conditions for you and your colleagues. Considering that Political Science is now the largest undergraduate major in Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science, class size is an issue that particularly affects those of us studying and working in this department.
I did not take the decision to go on strike lightly, as it does disrupt things for those of you in my class this semester. But I am participating precisely because the issues we are striking over affect you as well as me. Contrary to the Berkeley Math professor’s email that made the rounds last semester, insulating you from these issues, or ignoring them so you can spend your semesters focused exclusively on academics does not serve you as critically thinking students or as engaged citizens.
How the university manages its teaching mission has to do with the quality of education and guidance you will receive at Berkeley, the accessibility of higher education both here and at other public universities, and the way changes in public education are affecting and will continue to affect our society. None of these changes are inevitable. As political science students, you understand that the status quo in our society is not a Pareto optimal equilibrium but rather the outcome of ongoing political struggles. I think that being prompted to consider these issues during a week of the semester is as important as a week of course readings.
Support your GSI’s. Don’t cross the picket line.