When I was elected president of University Council-AFT in 2017, I
never could have predicted that the next five years would be as
tumultuous as they turned out to be. I also could never have
foreseen how our union of University of California lecturers and
librarians would organize, build power, win contracts, and
accomplish gains that far exceeded my hopes and expectations.
In a history-making move, the University Council-AFT is taking steps to expand representation in its leadership. Two new vice presidents have been elected, both of whom are contingent faculty from campuses that have not previously been represented — UC Merced and UC Irvine. Iris Ruiz, from Merced, is the first woman of color to serve on the UC-AFT Executive Board. Trevor Griffey is the first labor historian; he also has a pre-continuing and intermittent appointment.
For about three years the University Council-AFT engaged in
protracted negotiations on behalf of lecturers in their unit.
Their aims have always been about fairness — better working
conditions for lecturers and improved learning conditions for
students. Their fight has been about not only winning economic
and contractual gains for members, but gaining professional
respect and recognition for their teaching at the University of
California. Their campaign has been a true member-driven effort,
rooted in years of organizing by the statewide local that
represents both continuing lecturers and librarians, led by their
president, Mia McIver, and a committed negotiations team.
UCLA — It was about 3 a.m., UC-AFT President Mia McIver recalled, when negotiators for the University of California texted the administration’s “final offer.” McIver knew that all major contract issues, from job security to salary increases, were settled. She also knew that 6,500 lecturers were set to strike at all nine UC campuses in a few hours.
SUMMARY: UC-AFT reached a groundbreaking settlement with UC administration in the middle of the night. The planned two-day ULP strike has been called off. There will be noon rallies to celebrate today at all nine campuses.
Tenuous system torn apart by denial of three-year
contracts to experienced teachers
Anger among lecturers at UC Davis finally boiled over at the end
of the spring semester. On May 29 and 30, 2002, non-tenured
faculty walked the picket line instead of teaching classes, and
turned the campus entrance on A Street into an impromptu
Update: The strike is called off after an
agreement was reached in the early morning hours of November
See the news story.
Late Saturday night, the
lecturers of the University Council-AFT announced that they have
notified UC management that lecturers will take part in an unfair
labor practice strike on November 17 and 18. This
strike is about a pattern of bad faith bargaining and unfair
labor practices committed by President Michael Drake’s
As hundreds of lecturers, students and other workers at the
Berkeley campus of the University of California gathered in front
of the MLK Student Center, they began to chant. “UC would not be
anything, Without teaching faculty, ME!” Leading them was Lacy
Barnes, senior vice president of the CFT, and former full-time
faculty member and president of the State Center Federation of
As they have for the past two years, lecturers at the University
of California continue their effort to get the administration to
bargain a fair contract. The last agreement between the
university and the University Council-AFT, expired on January 31,
2020. The union’s negotiating committee has met with UC’s
bargaining team on 50 occasions, yet the four most fundamental
issues are still outstanding — high turnover rates, lack of
performance reviews, widespread uncompensated labor, and
Update: On June 1, UC-AFT members voted to authorize a strike, with a “strong majority” of nearly 7,000 members turning out for the vote, and 96% voting to authorize a systemwide strike should the UC Office of the President fail to meet UC-AFT’s collective bargaining demands.
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 —
Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, Chair of the Higher
Education Committee, recognized the University Council-AFT on the
Assembly Floor during UC-AFT’s first group lobby day at the State
Capitol on April 1.
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.
Andrew Tonkovich is a lecturer in the English
department at UC Irvine and president of UC-AFT Irvine, Local
2226. He edits the literary magazine Santa Monica Review,
and hosts Bibliocracy Radio, a weekly books show on KPFK 90.7 FM
in Southern California. Recent short stories, essays and reviews
of his have appeared in Faultline, The Rattling
Wall, OC Weekly and the Los Angeles Review of
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.”