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.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified longstanding societal
inequities in America, public higher education was already in a
state of crisis, from the staggering costs of college, to the
lack of access and support for lower income students, Black,
indigenous, and people of color, the deteriorating, or clear lack
of infrastructure, the reciprocal increase in highly paid
administrative positions, and last but not least, decrease in
full-time tenure track positions.
During the pandemic, issues in higher education — like underpaid
adjuncts teaching the majority of classes, often without
benefits; chronic underfunding; crushing student debt; and the
focus narrowing to be only on job training rather than the public
good — have come into greater relief.
With the new Biden administration and Congress come new
opportunities to ensure significant, sustainable public
investment in higher education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the long-standing crisis in
public higher education. Declining state support, the erosion of
tenure and shared governance, the increased use of contingent
appointments, and the loss of the faculty voice on campus are
threatening the core mission of higher education in our society.
Now is the time to stand up for a just, inclusive system of
higher education — one that can help transform our society.
While the COVID-19 pandemic meant that this summer’s AFT
Convention had to go virtual, and in turn, resulted in format
changes which made schedules tighter, and the work of those
attending harder in many respects, one of the great achievements
for CFT was the passage of a resolution calling for the right of
contingent faculty to participate in shared governance.
Contingent teaching faculty and librarians at the University of
California recently voted to create three new working groups to
combat racism and support each other with mutual aid. With the
firm conviction that Black Lives Matter, UC-AFT members aim to
align our union’s efforts with those of activists fighting for
racial justice nationwide.
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.
It is not a level playing field in the world of higher
education. The longstanding and systematic underfunding of
higher ed has to a crisis in which 68 percent of California
community college faculty now work as part-time, or temporary
When Aya de León started as a lecturer in African American
Studies at UC Berkeley and director of its Poetry for the People
program, she was excited to join AFT Local
1474. She’s been working since she was a teenager, de
León says, but this is the first job where she has a union to
When she was younger, the idea of being in a local seemed very
adult to her, and now being a member of one makes her feel she
has arrived, she says. That’s just one reason she’s excited to be
a union member.
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.
In a recent survey of UC-AFT faculty, members highlighted mental health as an issue that deserves our union’s attention and energy. UC students experiencing psychological challenges often seek support from lecturers and other contract faculty, who are sometimes the only faculty with whom they can develop a one-to-one relationship.
The Assembly Select Committee on the Master Plan for Higher
Education has scheduled a public hearing on Friday, May 4, at UC
Riverside to examine how to meet the needs of faculty and staff
to best support our students.