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UCLA Student Workers Fight for Unionization

According to The Daily Bruin, UCLA student workers are staging demonstrations to force the UCLA administration to recognize their union rights. The students cite that they do the same kind of work that other employees do, but without the benefits or job protection that the unionized school workers get.

Specifically, the students are employees of "Associated Students UCLA," a non-profit that operates places like cafeterias, book & gift shops, and also covers licensing of official UCLA merchandise.

More than 30 Associated Students UCLA workers gathered Monday morning to protest what they called a lack of response from the university regarding their recent attempts to join a union.
ASUCLA student workers have been attempting to join the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, since March. The workers rallied across the street from the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center dedication ceremony, chanting their demands and marching for more than an hour. [Full article here]

However, the real arena of the fight looks to be much higher up.

As all union contracts are negotiated through the President's office of the entire UC system, the student workers will ultimately have to convince them to either negotiate with the students themselves, or re-negotiate the contract with AFSCME. As a bit of background, the reason that students are even able to consider affiliating with a union is due to the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA), which is not a Federal but California state law. The specific passage is here:

(f) "Employee" or "higher education employee" means any employee of the Regents of the University of California, the Directors of Hastings College of the Law, or the Board of Trustees of the California State University, whose employment is principally within the State of California. However, managerial, and confidential employees shall be excluded from coverage under this chapter. The board may find student employees whose employment is contingent on their status as students are employees only if the services they provide are unrelated to their educational objectives, or, that those educational objectives are subordinate to the services they perform and that coverage under this chapter would further the purposes of this chapter.

If I read that correctly, that unfortunately means no Teaching Assistants are covered under the Act, as TAing is considered a crucial part of grad school education.

So what are the prospects of this, vis-a-vis student syndicalism? In general, any move that get students thinking solidaristically is a good thing; however affiliating with AFSCME limits potential future actions. HEERA limits the scope of terms UC unions can negotiate to "wages, hours of employment, and other terms and conditions of employment", and also gives a short laundry list of off-limits topics, such as policy decisions regarding hiring, firing, and tenure of professors, etc. If the students join AFSCME, you can be sure that if they start agitating for more (e.g. a say in the management, the co-determination of workers in regards to organizational governance, the inclusion of non-working students into the union, etc.) AFSCME will quickly kick them back into line (probably the local's leadership, or if students have a majority, a trusteeship imposed from the national union). However, if the ASUCLA student workers affiliated with the I.W.W. (or formed a union of all UC student workers) there are all kinds of fascinating future actions that could be taken to move the union and the student body to a more powerful (and radical) position within the university system.