Strike averted with groundbreaking adjunct contract in California

Just hours before a strike would have shuttered classes at nine University of California campuses, University Council-AFT—the union representing 6,500 lecturers—announced it had a tentative agreement and the action was called off. After 2 1/2 years of often contentious negotiations and a final marathon bargaining session that ended at 4 a.m., UC-AFT leaders were jubilant.

UC-AFT picketers

“It’s the best contract in UC-AFT history and among the best nationwide for contingent faculty,” UC-AFT President Mia McIver told the Los Angeles Times. Members will vote to ratify the agreement in the coming weeks.

But it’s not just UC-AFT members who stand to benefit. This contract addresses crucial issues that universally plague adjunct professors—those faculty who work on part-time, limited contracts. It improves job security, raises pay and increases family leave benefits.

“Everywhere across the country, adjuncts and lecturers are literally working paycheck to paycheck, cobbling together a gazillion jobs, not having healthcare, not having retirement security and, worse, not knowing from semester to semester or year to year what’s going to happen next year,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten at a celebratory rally Nov. 17. “What you have done in this contract is taken a giant step to eliminate precarity.”

“The job security, the paid family leave, the fair pay and more will all make working at the UC system so much more sustainable for lecturers,” Weingarten tweeted.

UC-AFT picketers
Mia McIver at the mic during a celebratory rally Nov. 17.

“It has taken 20-plus years to get this victory,” said California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas, a UC graduate who remembers his favorite professor, a lecturer, losing her contract in the 1990s. He credits organizing for the win: “It was through the lecturers talking to each other saying we want respect, we want job protections, we want to be treated like professionals. It’s in solidarity that we win.” 

Contract provisions include:

  • An average 30 percent pay increase over the five-year contract: This includes a 7 percent pay increase 60 days after ratification, a 1.3 percent increase in the first year, 3 percent increases in the following three years, a 4 percent increase in the fifth year and $1,500 signing bonuses at contract ratification.
  • Four weeks of 100 percent paid family leave for every member of the unit—including part-time lecturers, who were previously left out of this benefit.
  • Priority consideration to part-time lecturers for additional assignments before outside candidate recruitment.
  • ·Longer contracts for lecturers with good evaluations, so they will no longer have to reapply for their positions every year.
  • More access to senior status and its associated pay, benefits and job security: Instead of waiting six years before reaching this milestone, contracts for one, two and three years will move lecturers along more quickly, and inadequate evaluation systems will no longer hold back their progress.
  • More-transparent workload requirements.

These gains are especially meaningful because they convey the value of the work lecturers do for the university and its students. Lecturers teach 30 percent of UC classes and are widely praised as professional and supportive, going the extra mile to mentor students or write letters of recommendation. Yet, until now, they have been treated as dispensable.

UC-AFT picketers

Tenured and tenure-track faculty joined students, alumni and community members in supporting UC-AFT lecturers, and hundreds were prepared to cancel class in solidarity had the strike gone forward. The lecturers themselves were overwhelmingly committed to the fight: In June, 96 percent of the membership voted to authorize a strike. The effort was tenacious on every level, including rallies and panel discussions held virtually during the worst of the pandemic, masked picketing held later, media coverage, appeals to state leaders, and filing multiple unfair labor practice charges that are now resolved in the contract.

Jubilation was palpable at celebration rallies Nov. 17 and on Twitter at #TeamUCAFT and #WhenWeFightWeWin. “It’s a huge win for us as a union. It’s a huge win for me personally,” John Branstetter, a fifth-year UCLA lecturer and president of UC-AFT Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times. “It literally means I can keep my job—in the five years at UC, I’ve never had to not worry about getting rehired.”

[Virginia Myers]