The Platform

Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) works to democratize UAW 2865, the union for teaching assistants, readers, tutors, and graduate student instructors at the University of California. We believe that our Union is stronger when our membership is empowered – when decisions are made from the bottom-up rather than from the top-down, as is currently the case. We believe our Union should not only fight to strengthen our rights and benefits as academic workers, but also prioritize larger struggles for social and economic justice. We should be centrally engaged in the movement to defend public education. We must work in solidarity with community groups working for social change as well as with other unions. We believe that, above all, our union can be a strong vehicle for social change – but it must undergo a transformation first. In all of this, we reject a business unionism that embraces partnerships with management. Instead, we need a social movement union that supports the empowerment of members through direct action.

Our Work

Proposals for how to improve the quality of education for undergraduates by empowering ASEs with manageable workloads, adequate numbers of ASE positions, a discrimination-free university, liveable wages, and fair benefits.
ASEs are academic workers – not apprentices.
Together as ASEs, we have incredible potential to empower ourselves and our students.  The union should launch a member education campaign to develop what our status as both workers and students mean.  The union should also educate the broader public about our academic work and how the quality of undergraduate education at UC depends on us.
A Discrimination-Free University
ASEs routinely suffer discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, and disability amid the precarious structure of our employment.  Yet our Civil and Human Rights Committee and Women’s Committee have been nonexistent for years.  We will restore these and other dormant committees.  We will also and add or reorganize committees to explicitly fight racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression.
Guaranteed Appointments with Fee Remission and Benefits for all Graduate Students
Thousands of PhD, MA, and professional students need TA, Reader, or GSI appointments to cover their fee remissions and benefits.  Our union should fight to guarantee appointments for all these students.  In the immediate, the union should provide all resources necessary for grievances against UC’s backdoor cut in appointments such as campus “benefits decentralizations.”  Our union should also fight to repeal any cap on the number of semesters or quarters that ASEs can receive an appointment.
Living Wages
We need livable wages and economic security to continue providing the highest quality education to undergrads.  But this year, our take home pay actually declined.  And UC Executives have admitted that our pay has fallen behind that of comparable universities in the last 5 years.  We will fight to end this disparity.
Workload and Control of Our Work
We need a union contract that protects participation in decision-making by ASEs in departments, campuses, and the university.  The contract should include smaller class sizes with set student-to-teacher ratios; guarantees that ASEs will be paid for every hour worked; and the option of yearlong, rather than semesterly or quarterly appointments.
Affordable Housing, Health, and Childcare
We need guarantees of affordable healthcare, childcare, and housing for every period of enrolled study.
Paid Leave
We will advocate for a change to the parental leave policy to end the current discrimination between birth and non-birth parents; any restriction on paid leave for non-birth parents places unfair additional hardship on those who chose to adopt and disproportionately affects same-sex couples
Collective Direct Action and Enforcement of the Contract
Our contract and grievance procedures are tools for us to protect our rights as workers.  But individual grievances on issues like workload can sometimes disempower ASEs who rely on faculty members for recommendations and career opportunities.  Labor rights are won through collective action by workers; we commit to mobilizing campaigns around working conditions in order to win concrete concessions from the university in years between bargaining sessions.  These campaigns would include both grievances and direct actions like department petitions, rallies, demonstrations, marches on UC executives and more.
Right to Strike
The right to strike is our most fundamental right to defend our students, other workers, our welfare, and our voice at UC.  Our union should fight to expand this right — including the right to strike in support of other UC workers.  Otherwise, we risk further cuts, fee hikes, and power grabs by UC executives.

Our University

A vision for what we as union members, workers and students believe would bring UC closer to the model of a university with a truly public mission to serve its students, workers, faculty and communities.
Democratic governance of the university.
From top to bottom, UC should be governed by democratic structures with representation from students, workers and faculty. The current body and system of the Regents is not representative of the interests or needs of the UC community. Our union should work with students, faculty and workers to develop a vision for and then help fight for equal, directly elected representation for students, workers, faculty, and the general public on the Board of Regents. On our campuses and in our departments, we should also promote and work for democratic decision-making; the teachers, students and staff of academic programs should decide on the funding needs of their programs, not executive administrators.
Prioritizing Classroom Education
UC Executives have slashed departments and classes from Romance languages at UCLA and Irvine to Psychology at UCLA.  Our union needs to be on the front lines to stop these cuts.
While we must work to restore public funding to the UC (and other vital public services), we must also fight for current public funding to be directed toward academics and essential student services. Funding for instructors, classroom education and university libraries should be the last to be cut–executive salaries, administrative budgets and real estate investments, for example, should not have priority. As teachers, we know that small class sizes are essential to the education of our students. We also believe that teaching should be a priority and valued as such for all levels of faculty.
Accessible Education and Environment for All Communities of Students
Our union should work with students to restore California’s Master Plan of free tuition and open admissions for institutions of higher education. The consequences of the new “tuition” levels at UC are especially felt by students from low-income families and communities of color.  Together with CSU and community colleges, UC can guarantee admission and adequate financial support now for every Californian as the first step towards restoration of free tuition and open admissions.  Transferring between community colleges, CSUs, and UCs must be made simple and accessible.  Adequate financial support must be extended to undocumented students.  Loans are not a solution to the problem.
Challenging Discrimination and Oppression
Accessibility does not just mean affordability or having a place in the university, it also means creating educational and social spaces that are available and welcoming to all students. Our union should fight to create and expand university programs that challenge and investigate systemic oppression on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality.  Immediately, we as a union should organize to stop the dismantling of key institutions like African American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies.
An equitable and beneficial employer
The UC must be a just employer for all of its workers. It is unacceptable that employees of the UC do not make living wages, and even more intolerable that any are living below the poverty line. Our union must support other unions efforts to “in-source” all employees of the UC and reject tiered systems of pay and benefits. Our union should fight the casualization of the workforce, which affects academic employees. Employment security should exist for all faculty, not only tenure-tracks.
Engaged in our communities and in California
The UC is seen as one of the state’s greatest assets as an educational institution, a source of employment, and for its contributions to research and innovation. We believe the university should cultivate supportive relationships with our local communities.

Our Union

Our principles for a member run, democratic and progressive union.
Rejecting Management’s Vision of Shared Pain
Our union has to reject management’s ideology of sharing the pain.  We can only lift up ourselves and other workers by insisting on the rights, benefits, and living wages that we need to serve our students and live healthy rewarding lives.
A more democratic union is a stronger union
The union should above all empower all workers, starting with our members to have power in their lives at work, outside of work, and within the union. A special effort needs to be made to empower readers and tutors in our union. Decision-making in our union needs to be as participatory as possible, and from the bottom up.
Campus Autonomy
Campus units should have autonomy regarding campus matters. Every campus unit’s proposals and resolutions should be shared with the members of other units through the elected representatives, in order to have the maximum discussion and participation of members, before a decision is made at one of the statewide bodies of the union. The joint council and the executive board can send recommendations and proposals to be discussed and ratified at the monthly membership meetings of each unit. Details of actions, participation in campaigns etc, should be flexible for campus units to decide. In cases of urgent matters, all decisions of the executive board and the joint council should be put forth for subsequent approval in membership meetings. For important matters that affect greatly all members, decisions should be made in a regular or special statewide membership meeting, which is the highest body of our union.
Transparency and information dissemination at all levels of the union
Meetings of the executive board, the joint council and all other bodies of the union should be announced on the union’s website and open to all members. Contact information for all Joint Council members should be provided on the website.  All meetings with UC representatives other than grievance meetings, such as contract negotiation meetings, should be announced on the union’s website and open to all members and allied students, workers, and community members.  Union financial records should be made accessible available to all members.  The union should also have a blog and newsletter to keep people informed.
Accountable Elected Representatives
Elected union officials are there to support, coordinate and help carry out the decisions of the members, not to make executive decisions for the members without them.  The pattern for our union’s executive officers has been to give up their academic careers to become full-time staff on track for careers with the International Union. This leads to an executive board out of touch with the membership.
Therefore, elected representatives who accept paid positions with the union should not be paid more than the average TA/GSI salary.  Further, we will encourage elected representatives to resign their positions after serving one year so that a vacancy election can be held, creating the opportunity for all members, including MA students to run for leadership.
A Member-Run Union
We believe members and stewards on each campus should be able to run their campus units and that members are the best organizers.  We recognize that developing a structure for local staff which keeps decision-making and organizing in the hands of the members is both important and difficult.  The AWDU slate would explore and develop different models of staff structure and work with members to find the best possible practices.
Solidarity makes us strong
As academic student employees, our needs and our interests are common with all other workers and with our students. The gains of one group of workers sets a precedent for the possible gains of other workers. We need a union that actively supports demands, actions and members of other unions and coordinates with them for common issues in the workplace. We have the greatest strength to protect workers, our students, and ourselves when all UC unions bargain together with UC at one table.  The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions offers one model for consideration.
Fighting Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, and All Forms of Oppression
Our Civil and Human Rights Committee and Women’s Committee have been nonexistent for years.  We will restore these and other dormant committees.  We will also and add or reorganize committees to explicitly fight racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression.
Endorsements and Contributions
Endorsements should be voted on at meetings of members on all campuses represented or affected by the candidate, legislation, or ballot initiative in question.  Contributions — including from VCAP — should only be supported for candidates or causes endorsed at a membership meeting.
A union is not just about politics
The union should provide a vibrant space for thought, social and cultural life, and art.  We should organize social and cultural activities through the union to connect with each other and make union offices and resources available for self organized activities by members and community members alike.

Public Education and Beyond

We must fight as both workers and as citizens for accessible and affordable education for all from pre-school through university.

We stand in solidarity with our fellow education workers – both those performing different work within the UC system and those doing similar work as teachers and researchers at other universities. Over the next few months we will start to reach out to our fellow academic student employees at other universities, beginning with our fellow UAW members at CSU, to win comparable standards with respect to (living) wages, benefits, (manageable) workloads, and (stronger) rights. Similarly, in order to achieve a higher and more uniform set of wages, rights, and benefits for education workers we will begin discussions with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, California School Employees, and other unions in the education sector to join the efforts and represent the needs of nearly 5 million education employees across the U.S.

Our solidarity should not be limited to guaranteeing a standard of well-being for educational workers; rather, those of us who make schools work and understand the importance of education personally and professionally should strive to win better funding for educational programs and institutions at the state and federal levels, from Head Start through graduate programs. Our work must begin from the premise that the current budget and economic crises cannot be solved by cutting essential programs; we cannot improve education funding at the expense of the sick, the unemployed, or the poor. We will also stand alongside fellow public employee unions to protect hard-fought gains in ensuring decent wages, pensions, and benefits for those whose work serves the public good.

In contrast to growing prison spending and cuts to higher education — we see investment in UC and critical programs for working people as the best solution for California’s economic and budget crisis.  Investment in UC could come from a windfall oil-profit tax, reversing the Bush income-tax cut for the richest by assessing an additional 2% California State income tax on those who make $250,000 or more, and assessing the property taxes of big business based on current property values.

In the immediate term we will organize for and participate in future coordinated protest efforts against the evisceration and misallocation of education funding. We are also working to advance the right of immigrant students to affordable, accessible higher education and citizenship.