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Student workers target family housing, higher wages

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From page A1 | February 12, 2014 | 1 Comment

Members of the UC Student Workers’ Union wrapped up two days of demonstrations and bargaining with administration officials on Tuesday with no deal yet in sight.

About 100 people attended a series of events — including a Monday “children’s march” with families protesting plans to alter or eliminate family-friendly housing facilities on campus — according to an executive board member of the union, which represents about 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and readers.

Caroline McKusick, a Ph.D. student in anthropology at UCD, said members hope to reach an agreement soon, “but there’s a growing concern among us that although we’ve been bargaining for months now that UC has made only token movements on most of our demands.”

The UC Office of the President does not comment on the specifics of ongoing union negotiations. The two sides have been in talks since June.

UCD grad students have made an issue of the two early 1960s-era student housing complexes, Orchard Park and Solano Park:

* Orchard Park, which has 200 two-bedroom units, is slated to close in July, then reopen in 2016 with 840 beds with sizes ranging from studio to three bedrooms for student families, single graduate students and transitional faculty and staff, managed by a third-party developer, University Student Living.

* Solano Park is scheduled to close in July 2016, after the new Orchard Park opens its doors. Solano has 108 one-bedroom units and 168 two-bedroom units. The 15-acre site, dubbed East Village, is being planned in conjunction with the adjacent privately owned Nishi property, in cooperation with the city of Davis.

McKusick said that while there have been town hall meetings and surveys about the Solano Park project, graduate students fear rents for the new Solano Park will run upwards of $1,400 per month — versus the $906 she pays for a two-bedroom unit now.

The surveys, meanwhile, have asked questions like whether students would be able to do without a refrigerator or microwave — leading students to wonder if the developer is trying to find out how much it can charge for the fewest possible amenities.

“The university’s version of listening seems to be based around telling rather than hearing,” McKusick said.

UCD says it’s responding to the demand for graduate housing by also redeveloping the Castillian residence halls, which closed in June 2011. They are to be reopened as 8th and Wake by The Yackzan Group, another third-party developer.

Slated to open in the fall, the project will have 59 four-bedroom units for single graduate students, with rents per room of about $640 per month.

Altogether, UCD says, those two projects will increase family and grad student housing by more than 230 beds.

Student Housing is also providing priority housing at Russell Park and The Atriums, two more third party-owned and -operated housing complexes, according to UCD. Russell Park includes family housing.

Among the union’s systemwide demands: more competitive wages and smaller class sizes.

According to a report issued by the union, graduate students receive stipends amounting to $2,967 less than UC’s peer institutions. When cost of living is added, UC graduate students receive almost $5,000 less.

McKusick said the average monthly pay for a TA working 50 percent is $1,700 to $1,800 per month. For a reader who might work one-quarter-time, that falls to $600 to $700.

“I know readers who have three different jobs,” she said. “It’s just not enough to live on in California. When grad students can’t live on their wages in California, they don’t come to the University of California — and the whole university suffers.”

More than half of grad students offered a place at UC go elsewhere, according to the report.

“Annual pay for most of us is about $17,000. We qualify for food stamps and all that good stuff,” McKusick said.

On the wage issue, signs appear to show that momentum is in the union’s favor. The UC Academic Senate has taken up the issue, and UC President Janet Napolitano has announced a $5 million graduate student recruitment effort.

One place where the sides part ways dramatically: class size.

UC views it as an academic issue, the union as a work issue — because it says it causes workers to go over their hours and diminishes the quality of the classes they teach.

The union also wants UC to scrap a limit of 18 quarters that a TA can teach. Graduate students who cannot continue to work drop out, McKusick said.

The students are also stressing what they say are issues of access, particularly for marginalized populations, including increasing the number of undocumented students on campuses and making changes like all-gender bathrooms more welcoming to transgender students.

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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Discussion | 1 comment

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  • MeganFebruary 12, 2014 - 9:25 pm

    It is true that teaching assistants' monthly pay at 50% is $1700, but we are only paid nine months out of the year. Economists say that people who put more than 30% of their income toward rent are "cost burdened," and those who put more than 50% of their income toward rent are "severely cost burdened." I am a TA, and I spend almost 50% of my income on rent. Factor in utilities and I am definitely over 50% of my income - severely cost burdened. And I am one of the "lucky" ones! I live in a place that has lower than average rent, and I usually get three 50% TA appointments per year (some departments give 25% appointments so as to employ as many grad students as possible, and some people only get readerships). With low TA wages and high Davis rents, most grad students live paycheck to paycheck. If you have an unexpected expense like a medical bill, a flight home for a funeral, or a car repair (if you can afford a car), it throws your whole life into uncertainty. We need a fair wage!

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