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The Case of Andrew: UC lecturers' precarious working conditions and the power of union organizing


pOvPnwqJiDuXNqA-800x450-noPad.jpgAndrew Tonkovich has taught full-time as a lecturer at UC Irvine for most of his 22 years in the English Department's Composition Program. When he needed paid medical leave after brain surgery, the University denied his request twice. UC-AFT, the union that represents UC lecturers and librarians organized, and the University caved.

A few months ago, Andrew developed a mysterious pain in his arm, which was eventually found to be due to a brain tumor. He would need surgery and extensive therapy to recover. He applied for paid medical leave, which is offered to senate faculty, and to non-senate faculty (lecturers) teaching full-time. However, Tonkovich had recently begun teaching three-quarter time.

The University twice denied Andrew's request for paid medical leave even though there has been a clear precedent for making exceptions under extenuating circumstances--things like brain surgery, for example, The University denied the leave based on the contract fine print that Andrew was only teaching at 75%. Additionally, the University said, even if he took unpaid leave, Andrew would have to return money he had earned in summer, since he would not have taught his full 12-month schedule.

Our Union took action. Led by UC-AFT folks at UCI, we gathered over 7,000 signatures in support of medical leave for Andrew. Confronted with this push-back and some press that made the UC look really stingy, the Office of Personnel initially offered to let other UCI employees donate accrued vacation hours to help Andrew out. The Union rejected this offer, insisting that Andrew get what he was asking for: one quarter of paid medical leave.

Finally, the Union-organized public pressure worked. UCI granted Andrew Tonkovich paid medical leave for Winter quarter 2020 and retracted its demand that Andrew pay back Summer earnings.

The lesson here: Unions get things done. We organized and we won.