Negotiators from both the academic student-employee union and the university will be back at the bargaining table today, the third deadline in an almost-three-month-long contract debate.
United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 4121, the union that represents academic student-employees such as TAs and research assistants, has been negotiating a new three-year contract with the university since early March. The initial expiration date of the contract was April 30, but the contract was extended to May 12, and then again to May 21 due to unresolved issues. The two sides agreed Thursday to extend the contract again through the weekend, to May 24.
Today, the union expects to receive a recommendation from the university’s mediator on a comprehensive settlement proposal, according to the UAW Local 4121 website.
The main point of contention in the negotiations continues to be the union’s proposal to secure compensation increases for academic student-employees in the new contract in order to mitigate increasing tuition and student fees. Union members argue that without a pay increase, academic student-employees would essentially take a pay cut, because paying student costs is a condition of their employment.
“There still continues to be this issue of compensation, primarily,” said David Parsons, UAW Local 4121 president. “We polled our members about the university’s proposal, and there was overwhelming directive to reject a package that results in us taking cuts through a combination of wage increases and fee increases over the next couple of years.”
University representatives have pointed to the current wage freeze for faculty members and argue that guaranteeing compensation increases is difficult because of the economic downturn and consequent decrease in state funding.
As negotiations continue without settlement from both sides, a strike called by the union seems to be more likely. On April 28, UAW Local 4121 members passed a resolution calling on the bargaining committee to call a strike if an agreement cannot be reached with the university. During the past couple of weeks, a majority of the union’s members were polled regarding their views on the current contract proposals, and 80 percent of those polled said they would strike if the university did not reach a fair settlement.
“It’s hard to rule [a strike] out … because we haven’t yet seen movement from the university,” Parsons said. “Maybe things will change on Monday … we certainly hope so. But it’s hard not to say that that’s a possibility at this point.”
UAW Local 4121 received a strike sanction early this month from the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and the UAW International Executive Board.
Even if a settlement is not reached by the end of today, however, there is also the possibility that the contract could be extended again in order to continue negotiations rather than to call a strike.
“We’ll never inherently rule out an extension,” Parsons said. “But we feel like there needs to be grounds for an extension for us to accept it.”
Reach reporter Joanna Nolasco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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