Letter to the University regarding possible strike by teaching asssistants
UC President Richard C. Atkinson issued the following letter to the
University on Monday, November 23. It addresses UC's position on a possible strike by
teaching assistants in an attempt to gain the right to collective bargaining.
Members of the University Community
For the past several weeks, newspapers have reported that University
of California graduate student Teaching Assistants may conduct a strike on some or all of
our campuses in an attempt to gain collective bargaining rights. The reports also have
stated that the strike would take place during final exams and that as a result grades may
be withheld for many undergraduate students.
The University respects the right of its employees to decide whether
or not to be represented by a union. Currently, more than one-half of the University's
employees who are eligible for collective bargaining are unionized and this relationship
has operated successfully for nearly twenty years. The University intends to make every
effort to strengthen cooperative and productive relationships with the unions who
represent our employees.
During the past year, the University has reexamined the issue of
whether or not graduate students are UC "employees" as defined by the law, and
therefore are eligible to participate in collective bargaining. To answer this question,
we examined the link between the services graduate students provide and their educational
goals. We also considered the nature of the relationship between the graduate students and
the faculty whom they assist. It is the University's position that students who serve as
Readers and Tutors should be eligible for collective bargaining because their duties are
not integral to their educational experience. In addition, the faculty for whom they work
serve primarily as supervisors as opposed to educational mentors in their field of study.
Unlike Readers and Tutors, Teaching Assistants carry out
instructional activities as part of their educational program toward obtaining an advanced
degree. In other words, their instructional duties, which are overseen by faculty
advisors, are integral to their education. Therefore we believe that Teaching Assistants
are principally students rather than employees, and thus are not eligible for collective
bargaining, which would disrupt the collegial relationships between students and faculty
that are so critical in graduate work. This belief was upheld by the California Court of
Appeal, which ruled that Teaching Assistants are not entitled to unionize under the
collective bargaining law.
While the University cannot support the extension of collective
bargaining rights to Teaching Assistants, we intend to work in good faith to resolve the
issues of interest to them. Each of the campuses is arranging meetings with its Teaching
Assistants in the hope that open dialogue will enable us to address any areas that need
The stipends that the University pays Teaching Assistants to support
their education demonstrate the value the University places on their work. A recent
independent survey of more than 25 public research universities that are members of the
Association of American Universities reflects the results of our efforts. For the 1997-98
year, average Teaching Assistant compensation for California residents at UC's eight
general campuses occupies eight of the top nine spots in the survey.
With or without collective bargaining, we will continue to recognize
the important contribution that graduate students make to providing high-quality
instruction for our undergraduate students. The University will make every effort to
address any concerns that exist, and ensure that Teaching Assistants are being treated
Thousands of undergraduate students throughout the state have
entrusted the University with their education. While we hope that a Teaching Assistant
strike will not disrupt the final exams and grades of our undergraduates, we will do
everything within our power to ensure that our undergraduates complete their courses and
receive their grades.
I encourage Teaching Assistants to discuss your thoughts on this matter with your
department chair, dean, or chancellor so that we can take your viewpoint into
consideration. The administration is committed to engaging students in a process that will
address issues that matter to Teaching Assistants in both the short run and the long run.
I look forward to resolving this matter and continuing to provide California's students
with the highest-quality undergraduate and graduate education of any public university in
Richard C. Atkinson,