LaborFamily News & Views

Family Leave for Academic Student Employees

Parental Participation
UAW Local 2865 members hold a grade-in to highlight their contribution to undergraduate instruction at the University of California.

By Christine Petit

BEGINNINGS

UAW Local 2865 is the union for 12,000 teaching assistants, tutors and graders at the University of California (UC). The idea to push for family-friendly gains at our union came from members’ feedback on bargaining surveys that we conducted before the bargaining committee drafted its initial proposals. We learned that the existing leave provisions were woefully inadequate and policies about how leaves were administered – and whether or not they were even granted – were inconsistent across the various departments.

BUILDING SUPPORT

Members with family responsibilities were keenly aware of the difficulties of juggling family life within the structure of the UC. And members who did not have such responsibilities were generally supportive of fighting for benefits (such as childcare reimbursement) that make it easier for academic student employees with family responsibilities to succeed. We also used the fact that there has been a push within the UC for many years to make the university more accessible for workers and students with families. So, despite a lot of resistance at the bargaining table, there was some institutional will to move things in a more family-friendly direction.

However, our members were really the catalyst for this movement. They shared their personal stories about the impact of the UC’s lack of family-friendly provisions and, in some cases, the anti-family sentiment that academic student employees (ASEs) had experienced in their departments from faculty and administrators. A delegation of ASEs with children came to the bargaining table and explained the hardships caused by a lack of affordable childcare services, the need for enhanced family and medical leaves, and the importance of affordable and consistent dependent healthcare across the campuses.

BARGAINING VICTORIES

Prior to 2007, we had no substantive leaves provisions. In our 2007 contract negotiations, we won several important work-family benefits with most falling in the category of leaves. Our contract now guarantees one of the most comprehensive packages of paid leaves for academic student employees (ASEs) in the United States. This includes paid short-term (2 days per 11-week quarter; 3 days per 16-week semester) and long-term (up to four weeks per academic term) family related leave for salaried ASEs who work 50 percent time. An ASE may take up to four weeks of childbearing leave or two weeks leave to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child. We also won paid bereavement leave of at least three days per occurrence. The leaves are prorated for other appointment levels and non-salaried employees may take unpaid leaves.

Another significant victory was the creation and implementation of our childcare reimbursement program. All ASEs working an average of 10 hours a week or more are eligible for up to $900 a year in reimbursements for the care of their non-school-aged children.

LESSONS LEARNED

The main thing that we learned from the 2007 contract negotiations is that it’s important to begin bargaining with a clear set of goals. It can take quite a while for a large institution such as the UC to move on issues. So having well-defined priorities and an active membership is critical in moving the institutional mountains.

Christine Petit is the president of UAW Local 2865. For more information, email president@uaw2865.org.

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