Shop Talk

Thursday, November 30, 2017


On Oct. 15, the California legislature passed SB 201, a bill that extends the right to unionize to a subsection of the graduate student community. This measure directly affects some UCSF graduate students.

In response, ASGD will be hosting a Town Hall to discuss the possible impact of this legislation and answer student questions on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. in MH-1400. We will be also livestreaming this event to CL-221 in Parnassus.

Following is a summary of information ASGD has collected for the graduate student community in order to provide basic information on how SB 201 may affect them. Please consider attending the town hall for more in-depth information and discussion.

What is SB 201?

Previously, the right to unionize was only available for Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs), a term applied to graduate students currently involved with aiding in course instruction.

The term is virtually synonymous with Teaching Assistants (TAs). Graduate students undergoing their research for their degree but not actively TAing are still considered university student employees, but are separately classified as Graduate Student Researchers (GSRs).

This new bill extends all the collective bargaining and unionization rights that GSIs currently enjoy to GSRs.

In a union system, instead of employees directly negotiating with their employer, the union negotiates a standard contract on behalf of all the workers it represents.

This contract lays out the rights, benefits, and working conditions all its represented workers must be provided with. The intent is to collectively increase negotiating power.

Does this change affect me?

Although many UCSF students may be GSRs, there is currently limited information on the criteria that determine a student’s eligibility for union representation, as it is dependent on how their stipend payments are classified.

Further, students that are currently eligible for union representation may not be so for the remainder of their degree, and vice versa. By one estimate, just 35% of PhD students at UCSF are currently eligible for union representation due to payment schemes.

Beyond a mandatory union fee (approximately 1% of income), we cannot speculate on the exact changes that would occur for the average graduate student until a contract between a union and the administration is being drafted.

For an idea of what such a contract may look like, please refer to the additional resources at the bottom of the page.

Who would represent me?

This is up to the student body. Students can form a new union, join an existing union, or create a new branch within an existing union.

The most likely scenarios are the latter two, as it is easier to utilize an existing organization’s established structure and resource pool.

UAW2865 is a branch of the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America union which currently represents Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) at UC schools.

This organization intends to expand their representation to the newly eligible Graduate Student Researchers (GSRs), which includes many UCSF graduate students.

Their web page is listed below for your consideration.

However, it is important to note that any decision on student unionization will take place UC wide.

UCSF student votes will be pooled with graduate student votes across the UC system to determine whether the group as a whole moves forward on union formation.

What does the unionization process entail, and what can I expect in the coming months?

SB201 does not fully come into effect until Jan. 1. However, UAW2865 may have representatives on this and other campuses before that date.

Keep an eye out for union representatives if you would like to submit a vote.

Unions are organized when the majority of employees in a collective bargaining unit sign authorization cards.

If you are eligible to be represented by the union, your signature on this card is equal to a “yes” vote.

When at least 50% of employees sign these forms, the National Labor Relations Board will require the employer to recognize and negotiate with the union.

It is at this point that the details of the contract between GSRs and the administration will be finalized.

Have other graduate student communities unionized before?

Yes. The number of universities with unionized graduate communities has expanded greatly in recent years.

Examples include UW, Columbia, and Boston College, who are all unionized through UAW as well.

Keep in mind that although someone in your position could vote in a union at another school doesn’t mean you will be granted the same power, and vice versa.

Further resources

UAW2865 GSR campaign

UAW2865 General Union FAQs

UC statement of opposition to SB 201

Senate Bill 201 Full Text

Example UAW graduate student union contract from UW.

Current UAW2865 GSI contract

Some of this information is based on best estimations using previous graduate student unionizations at other universities.

Unfortunately, UCSF students are in a unique situation because of the size of the UC system, the proportion of STEM graduates, and lack of an undergraduate student body, so it is impossible to speculate exactly how a union and collective bargaining contract will look upon completion.

For more information and to discuss with your fellow graduate students, please consider attending the Town Hall on Dec. 12 in MH-1400 and CL-221.