After almost two years of bargaining, UC lecturers are working under a contract that expired on January 31. UC Santa Cruz lecturers are slated to teach the majority of first year core classes this fall, creating an important bridge between incoming students and faculty. As they adjust their curriculum to suit remote learning and benefit their students, lecturers continue to fight for their own job security. 

Josh Brahinsky briefly addressed the members of the caravan in the parking lot of the Barn Theater. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

The University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) is the collective bargaining unit for UC lecturers, and represents about 260 professional educators at UCSC. 

“We don’t need a raise right now,” said Josh Brahinsky, a UCSC lecturer, doctoral candidate, and organizer for UC-AFT. “We understand that we can’t afford that, [during the COVID pandemic] but we really need to create a situation where people who do good jobs or work get rehired.”

Pre-continuing lecturers across the UC have been asking for increased job security for the past 20 years. Current negotiations are similar to those that occurred in 2002, said UC-AFT president Mia McIver, and have included grievances about lecturers frequently losing their jobs with little to no notice.

On Aug.17, UC-AFT held a statewide caravan to welcome new UC President Michael Drake and bring attention to lecturers’ lack of job protection. In Santa Cruz, over 20 cars gathered at the entrance of Harbor High School, carrying UC-AFT lecturers, UCSC students, and Harbor High School teachers. The caravan rolled out around 4:30 p.m. heading down Soquel and ending at the base of campus. All vehicles were festooned with paint and posters, and the drivers wore UC-AFT face masks. 

UC-AFT lecturers and supporters line up outside Harbor High School as the caravan prepares to roll out. Photo by Haneen Zain.

“I really hope that President Drake would take this as an opportunity to hit the reset button on the way that UC labor relations have historically been incredibly hostile to workers,” McIver said later in an interview. “It’s an opportunity for a new day in respecting workers and providing dignified working conditions.”

Job security is the primary issue of UC-AFT negotiators. It often takes more than six years for lecturers to reach continuing status and receive a stable employment contract.

Lecturer Josh Brahinsky said many pre-continuing teachers do not know whether the administration will employ them from one quarter to the next. At the end of each term, a lecturer who had started preparing for a future class could be laid off with little warning. The expired contract states those who have quarter-long or yearlong appointments get at least 30 days notice before being laid off. Those with appointments lasting longer than a year and four to nine quarters of experience now get at least 60 days. 

A UC contract proposal from June 26 offered lecturers some job security improvements. The new contract would permit lecturers to express interest in teaching a certain course 60 days before the start of a new term and allow them to count summer courses toward eligibility for a continuing appointment. The proposal does not include improved rehiring rights for pre-continuing lecturers, a key UC-AFT demand.

“[The] UC is committed to negotiating a fair agreement with UC-AFT as quickly as possible, though the progress thus far has been very slow,” read a statement from the UC provided in an email by UC Office of the President media and communication strategist Sarah McBride. “Our lecturers play an essential role in delivering quality instruction to students and deserve the security of a contract.”

While lecturers wait to come to an agreement with the administration regarding employment rights, students rely on lecturers to help them adapt to online learning. 

“COVID has made everyone in the United States notice that teaching is crucial, and that teachers need to be super skilled and they need job security,” Brahinsky said. “That’s what this moment is, […] everybody’s suddenly noticing this like ’Wow look at that, without teachers, what happens in our world?’”