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.
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.
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.
UC librarians and their union, the University Council-AFT, has
three priority issues in the negotiations of their contract with
university administrators: salary and economic issues, academic
freedom, and temporary librarians.
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.
The University Council-AFT is negotiating with UC over two key
articles of its contract covering librarians — salaries and
professional development funds — says Axel Borg, distinguished
wine and food science bibliographer at UC Davis. He sums up the
common concerns between the union and the university as
competitiveness, compression, and consistency.
UC Riverside librarian Carla Arbagey says, “Technology is
like air to me.” It is essential in the library, where she
integrates systems and tracks information on more than 3.4
million items. She is the winner of the 2014 Technology New
Leader Award from the California Library Association, and a
self-described “type-A personality” who likes things to be tidy,
organized, and efficient.
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.
“We no longer have a visible reference desk in our two main
libraries,” reports Miki Goral, a UCLA librarian of 43 years.
“Students first have to go to the circulation desk. If the
student working there thinks they need to talk to a reference
librarian, they often refer them to a 24/7 online chat, which is
staffed by a UC librarian only during certain hours.
Otherwise they could be chatting with a librarian in New York, or
even Australia. Plus chatting can take 40 minutes to do what you
can do in 5 if you’re actually talking.”
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.”
Long-time UC Davisreference librarian Axel
Borg wears so many hats that he received the James H. Meyer
Distinguished Achievement Award from the Academic Federation last
year. Borg has served on three of its committees, including the
one which names the Federation president each year.