By Josh Brahinsky and Roxi Power, UC-AFT Santa Cruz
When graduate-student workers at the University of California at Santa Cruz voted overwhelmingly in December to reject their statewide union contract and follow the West Virginia teachers’ model of a wildcat strike, the precarious lives of academic workers became a news story once again.
When Josh Brahinsky isn’t teaching “Academic Literacy and Ethos”
and “Brain, Mind, and Consciousness” classes to new students at
UC Santa Cruz, the lecturer is researching bio-cultural
anthropology at Stanford University, teaching at San Jose State,
or leading online classes at Bucks County Community College in
“UC only pays me $19,900 yearly,” Brahinsky said. “That’s not
enough to live on, so I have to make up the difference somewhere
It’s not often that a personal medical ordeal results in a
positive outcome that helps many other people, but that’s what
happened when Andrew Tonkovich, a lecturer at UC Irvine, had to
receive treatment for a brain tumor.
Members, officers, and activists from higher education unions
throughout California came together for a full day during Campus
Equity Week to chart a strategy for defending public higher
education. They denounced especially the way education
institutions, under corporate pressure, increasingly rely on
contingent instructors while treating them as outsiders.
That old cornball joke still makes me laugh, 50 years after I
read it in a kids magazine. I understood it then as honest if
everyday acknowledgement by the presumably once-lazy worker of
his or her required acquiescence to power, and of isolation. But
its splendid trick syntax and on-the-nose calling out of the
coercive relationship of management to labor suggested more, even
to a 10-year-old: cognizance of at least the potential inherent
power of the worker — all workers? — to apprehend, to subvert, to
jest, however fatalistically, cynically or — my own favorite —
Evaluation can be a harrowing experience for any educator. But
for non-tenured faculty in the UC system, the emotional drain is
compounded by the critical role that evaluations play in whether
a lecturer continues to work at all.
At UC Berkeley, 16 lecturer site representatives are fanning out
across the sprawling campus. In Davis, the union is fielding at
least 15. In both places, the effort to meet the challenge of a
new era in public sector labor relations is part of an even
larger move to change the culture of the union.
His voice may be a little hoarse and his cold is still
hanging on, but Ben Harder is there for the start of bargaining.
Harder leads the negotiating team of UC-AFT lecturers. Their
contract expires June 30, and the talks started March 3.
Goetz Wolff has taught at UCLA for more than 20
years, but was generally more involved with Southern California’s
vibrant labor movement than with the union on his job. Wolff, for
example, earned high praise for his six years as research
director at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, but
barely knew the ins and outs of the University Council-AFT.
Classics lecturer John Rundin feels
privileged to pass on to another generation the cultural
treasures that were given to him by the previous generation. The
teacher of Latin and ancient Greek is one of two recipients of
this year’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from the UC Davis
“I live my job, love what I do, and I love my students,” says
Rundin. “It is a great honor.”