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UC Lecturer Union Protests for Better Teaching and Working Conditions

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About a dozen lecturers at the University of California Irvine staged a rally in support of the UC-AFT’s (University Council – American Federation of Teachers) efforts to negotiate improved pay, benefits, rights, and protections with the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) at the campus flagpoles Friday afternoon.

During the Christmas themed informational picket, non-senate faculty donned Santa hats and handed out informational packets with candy canes detailing their plight to passerby on Ring Road.

“The bottom line is [non-senate faculty] are an incredible part of the workforce at the UC and the UCOP, with whom we are in contract bargaining, keeps jerking us around and keeps making us wait,” said UC-AFT Local 2226 President and English Department Lecturer Andrew Tonkovich.

The protest coincided with the two-day bargaining session (Dec. 3-4) that took place in Oakland between the UC-AFT and the UCOP as a show of solidarity. The UC-AFT and UCOP had already been through nine months of bargaining and two contract extensions prior to the Oakland session.

Among the demands of the UC-AFT are more stable appointments, Social Security benefits for part-time lecturers, and access to campus and departmental governance for lecturers.

In a press release, the UC-AFT noted that lecturers were “often treated as second-class citizens by administrators and Senate faculty” within the UC.

Lecturers are faculty that are not eligible for tenure, despite teaching approximately 1/3 of all courses taken by students during their undergraduate careers.  Additionally, some lecturers are excluded from Social Security benefits and pension, although they teach the same classes as tenured professors.

“They really just get paid to teach and that’s it,” said Honora St. Clair, Union Field Rep. “That isn’t standard for any other employee in the state of California.

“In the UC system, it’s appalling to think that some of the lecturers here can work here for thirty years without anything to take away from that.”

To make ends meet, several lecturers, dubbed “freeway flyers” due to the frequency with which they commute, teach at multiple colleges throughout one quarter.

To date, UC has offered lecturers a 1.5% raise over a proposed four-year contract, while the UC-AFT is seeking a minimum of a 3.5% raise. According to the union, a 1.5% raise would put lecturers nearly 9% behind the average inflation in the past 30 years.

Currently, lecturers face an uphill battle in regards to obtaining job security at the UC. In their first six years of teaching, lecturers are not given any guarantees that their contracts will be renewed for the following year.

“It just means a lot of uncertainty for lecturers here at UCI,” said said Jackie Way, an English Composition lecturer since 2013. “We teach a lot of the classes here and we have to apply for jobs every year. Right now, without a contract, we have no real certainty about what the future is going to hold.

“We want to have security, we want stability for our lecturers, we want reasonable pay increases to keep up with the cost of living, especially for us working in UCI, it’s really expensive, we want what we’ve earned, working really hard for students here.”

After six years of quarterly or annual appointments, lecturers are eligible for an “Excellence Review”, which affords them some job security through a continuing appointment. Through a continuing appointment, lecturers no longer need to reapply for jobs every year, but are not given any other benefits.

“Why does it take six years for us to be considered excellent instructors?” asked Tonkovich, who started lecturing at UCI in 1996. “We have applied for our own jobs every year over and over again until we get to this review period.

“Why do we have to wait six years to be told that we’re good enough to now be considered continuing appointments?”

Often times lecturers often do not know if, when, or what they will be teaching until fairly late, forcing them to scramble before the start of a quarter, though Tonkovich notes that this does not prevent the lecturers from being “excellent” in class.

Due to how late lecturers are notified, those who do not receive renewed appointments are in a more precarious situation as they miss out on opportunities to apply for work elsewhere during the waiting period.

There are nearly 400 lecturers currently teaching at UCI, with most teaching at the School of Humanities, especially within composition, academic English, and foreign language.

Should bargaining with the UCOP yield no results, Tonkovich states the UCOP will be forced to file an Unfair Labor Practice against the UC, which he says the union would rather refrain from unless absolutely necessary.

“What we’d like is for [lecturers] to be hired at the highest possible percentage of employment and to get all the professional support they need, for instance, schedule their classes so they can do their best in terms of not being worked to death,” said Tonkovich.