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Impasse Procedure and Strike FAQ 2020


Why might we need to strike?
Can we try other things first?
What changes to the contract would we be striking for?
What would a teaching faculty strike look like?
What would a strike look like during Covid-19?
How and when do we decide to strike?
Are there pre-strike legal requirements that must be met?

Why not just strike now?
How is impasse declared?
How long will a strike last?
When was the last time we went on strike, and what happened?
What happens if we decide not to strike?
What if a strike doesn’t “work”?
Is a strike during a budget crisis a good idea?
Will university administrators know we’re on strike if we are remote?
Am I going to get fired if I strike?
Will there be strike pay?
Can the administration cut benefits during a strike?
Will striking hurt our students?
How do we get students on board?
How many people do we need to strike to make it work?
Will others join us? (unions/students, etc.)
If I’m not (re)appointed fall (or beyond), how can I help?
Have strikes worked for other UC employees?

Q: Why might we need to strike?

A: Strikes work! If we want to see improvements in our wages, job security, and workload, we have to let UC admin know that we mean business. After 15 months of bargaining, UC admin hasn’t brought proposals to the table on any of our key bargaining priorities: job stability, workload, and compensation. We know from past experience that they don’t move unless they’re forced to. We have to show them how powerful we really are.

Q: Can we try other things first?

A: We have been bargaining in good faith with UC management for more than a year. We’ve marshaled data, statistics, member testimony, reasoned argument, and other forms of persuasion. We have compromised in areas that were important to UC admin in order to incentivise them to bring proposals to the table--any proposals at all--on our key priorities of job stability, workload, and compensation. In addition, we have held rallies, phone campaigns, internet petitions, large demonstrations, postcard campaigns, and more. Everything UC management has proposed offers us either minimal change to our existing contract, or roll-backs that are actually even worse for us (especially on job security). As the hundreds of members who have observed bargaining can testify, UC admin is consistently unresponsive at best, disdainful and patronizing at worst. We will continue to negotiate at the bargaining table, and we are still organizing other kinds of actions to influence the administrators, but a strike is our greatest power.

Q: What changes to the contract would we be striking for?

A: Primarily to help our most vulnerable colleagues keep their jobs and their health insurance. The average UC lecturer teaches less than 2 years, not by choice. More than half of UC teaching faculty teach one year or less. Only 7.8% of lecturers have received a continuing appointment since we won that right in 2003. It’s an open and shameful secret that UC admin treats most teaching faculty as disposable. Ultimately, students are most harmed by the current system, which deprives them of steady and consistent instruction and mentorship.

Contingent faculty at all California community colleges and California State University campuses already have the right to keep teaching if they’re qualified and competent and their classes are offered again. We’re asking UC admin to invest in the educational mission of the UC by instituting a similar process here. Great teachers should be able to keep teaching.

Job stability is a matter of racial and gender equity both for ourselves and our students. We’re more likely to be women and people of color than tenure-track faculty. If UC admin is serious about combating racism and sexism, they need to support the teaching faculty who support and mentor Black, Latinx, Native, first-gen, and other historically underrepresented students.

The systemwide turnover rate among UC lecturers is 26% per year, meaning that more than 1600 teaching faculty lose their jobs annually. We know from exit interviews that most either want to keep teaching at the UC or feel they have no choice but to leave because the working conditions are unsustainable. For more details on the full range of our proposals, see our bargaining updates here. COVID-19 has impacted our negotiations with UCOP, and we are now focused primarily on ensuring real job stability for ALL teaching faculty.

Q: What would a teaching faculty strike look like?

A: A strike is an act of solidarity where as many Unit 18 lecturers as possible withhold labor from the UC. That means no classes, lectures, discussions, office hours, grading, serving on committees, or preparing course materials for the duration of the strike. Instead, we use the time to support each other and send the message to the administration and the public that our labor is critical for the functioning of the university and for student success, and that we will not settle for anything less than a fair contract that includes our major bargaining priorities.

Q: What would a strike look like during Covid-19?

A: The main difference during Covid 19 is that because courses will mostly be online, it will be more difficult to make it visible when we withhold our labor. We will easily show our students, since they will be missing classes and our canvas sites will be closed, but we are also going to need to have online pickets like (link), tweet our picket at administrators like (Link) and have socially distanced pickets like (link) and of course get solid press coverage like (link). But the same leverage applies: we can legally vote to collectively withhold our labor until we decide to return to work.

Q: How and when do we decide to strike?

A: We are a democratic, member-run union. UC-AFT Unit 18 union members must affirmatively vote to authorize a strike. There are also several legal steps that unions must go through before a strike may be called. UC-AFT would first survey members with a strike pledge to gauge the number of lecturers who will privately commit to a strike. If and when there is sufficient support, we move to a strike authorization vote: a formal vote using a ballot system for all Unit 18 members. The ballot would be secret and anonymous but the results would be public. The authorization vote is not a guarantee of a strike, but simply authorizes our UC-AFT bargaining team to call a strike in the event that it becomes necessary. They may or may not need to use that authority, but having it gives our team additional power to leverage at the bargaining table. Finally, if a bargaining impasse is established or if the university is engaged in specific unfair labor practices, the negotiating team may decide to call a strike. They will indicate when the date would be and what the form of the strike might take. Local campus leaders will help organize events and support at each UC during the strike period. Strikes require careful and intense organizing in order to reach as many union members and allies as possible. We would call on all UC-AFT members to reach out to their friends and colleagues to ensure the strike’s success.

Q: Are there pre-strike legal requirements that must be met?

A: Yes. There are two possible legal or procedural hurdles that we must meet before we can strike. First, negotiations must reach “impasse, which requires a legal determination from the Public Employment Relations Board that no further progress can be made in negotiations. Second, we must have exhausted the legally defined post-impasse procedures (described below). Alternately, we could strike pre-impasse if UC admin commits an unfair labor practice.

Q: Why not just strike now?

A: Strikes are very powerful tools, but a failed strike can do more damage than good. That means ensuring both that UC admin has been given a chance to bargain and that a critical mass of UC-AFT faculty will strike together. Building that solidarity takes time. An illegal strike (one officially authorized by our union before we’ve reached impasse or exhausted the impasse procedures) could open us up to massive retaliation from UC admin. We saw with the COLA strike that UC admin is more than willing to attack unions and workers. An illegal strike could incur crippling legal fees that would divert our modest resources from organizing and drain our power when we need it the most. We want to be on the offense, not fending off legal attacks by UC admin.

Q: How is impasse declared?

A: HEERA states that "impasse means that the parties have reached a point in meeting and conferring at which their differences in positions are such that further meetings would be futile." (Gov't Code sec. 3562(j).) Once impasse has been determined by PERB, the parties are obligated to participate in good faith in mediation and, if ordered by the mediator, a fact-finding process. Impasse would not be found until there has been substantial back and forth between the parties on substantive proposals without any progress being made. In determining whether an actual impasse exists, PERB will consider several factors including: (1) the number and length of negotiating sessions and the period of time over which these sessions occurred; (2) the extent to which the parties presented and discussed counter proposals; (3) the extent to which the parties reached tentative agreements on negotiated issues; and (4) the extent to which issues remain unresolved.

Q: How long will a strike last?

A: It’s impossible to say for sure. UC admin has historically moved fairly quickly to bring strikes to a close, and we believe that the political situation within the administration is such that they will try to do the same if we strike. As mentioned below, UC-AFT lecturers struck in 2002 for just 2 days and won the Continuing Appointment. However, a threat of an open-ended strike will be much more compelling than a strike has a pre-determined endpoint.

Q: When was the last time we went on strike, and what happened?

A: The UC-AFT lecturer strike of 2002 won Continuing Appointments - a huge victory for job security and the possibility of a career track. The strike lasted for 2 days. Read up on the 2002 strike.

Q: What happens if we decide not to strike?

A: We will continue to negotiate with the UC and organize to advance our demands as far as we are able. Without the possibility of a strike, though, we have limited leverage in negotiations. If we do not strike and bring about a speedy resolution to negotiations, we risk working without a contract for an extended period. With our contract expired, we lose the right to force the UC to go to arbitration to settle grievances. That means the UC has the final say in all disputes. We need a contract to make sure our grievances have teeth.

Q: Is a strike during a budget crisis a good idea?

A: Historically, workers in the labor movement have made some of the biggest gains during times of crisis that laid bare how unfair the system really is. We recognize the seriousness of COVID-19, and because the pandemic has made our need for job continuity especially important, our current demands are focused there and are nearly cost neutral to the university.

Q: Will university administrators know we are on strike if we are remote?

A: Our strike will be visible in many ways. First, obviously classes taught in real time will be halted. For classes taught asynchronously, we can take our materials down from the course websites. In either form, we can refrain from answering e-mails, holding office hours, doing committee work, or any other kind of labor we usually do during our quarters and semesters. More importantly, we will have many options for coming together online to support one another and be seen by the university community. Teach-ins, virtual happy hours, even mini virtual concerts are among the possibilities. There are even some safe, socially-distanced forms of direct action we are considering. We believe our strike will exert pressure on the administration indirectly by mobilizing students, parents, alumni and directly through the withholding of our labor.

Q: Can I be fired if I strike?

A: No. We are being very careful to ensure that we are striking legally. Federal and state laws protect us from retaliation. We cannot be fired for exercising our labor rights as union members.

Q: Can the administration cut my benefits during a strike?

In the past, UC admin has tried to break a strike by depriving workers who have been on strike for more than 30 days their benefits. UC admin’s interpretation of labor law is that benefits may be cut as strikers would not be in active employment status after the first of whatever month that occurs.

Q: Will there be strike pay?

A: We unfortunately don’t have a big strike fund to support our members, but we will do everything we can to help one another. During the COLA strike at UCSC, the strikers raised more than $100,000 on But it’s possible we may lose pay. To keep perspective, our union went on strike for just two days and won the Continuing Appointment in 2003. Two days of lost pay was a small price for that job security.

Q: Will striking hurt our students?

A: If and when we strike, it would be for the students as much as for ourselves! We all want to be the best teachers we can, and we can’t be the best if we are constantly worried about job security, paying the rent, or getting the tools we need to teach. Although the strike might be a temporary disruption, it is essential for the long-term quality of education in the UC system. Moreover, the strike itself is actually a great teachable moment. These issues affect students too, and learning about how labor works within their university is valuable.We will have messages prepared for students so they know why we are striking and how they can show their support.

Q: How do we get students on board?

A: We get our students on board by talking to them and sharing how our working conditions are their learning conditions. It’s that simple. But we can reach out to student orgs and groups on our campuses and ask students where and how they communicate. Many of our union’s social media accounts are followed by UC students.

Q: How many people do we need to strike to make it work?

A: As many as possible. Our power lies in our solidarity. In our pre-bargaining survey from winter 2019, even before we had any issues identified, 63% of more than 1000 respondents said they would strike if UC admin was unresponsive to our core demands. UC admin has been unresponsive to our core demands.

Q: Will others join us? (unions/students, etc.)

A: Yes. Our plan is to build our power primarily through engaging our own members. But we also need the support of our students and other UC workers. So we will actively be organizing with those stakeholders and groups to make our strike big.

Q: If I’m not (re)appointed for fall (or beyond), how can I help?

A: You are not alone. Many of the union’s members are pre-continuing and do not have an appointment for next year. That’s why collective action is so urgent. One of the reasons it has been so hard for us to win improvements in job stability is that UCOP counts on a large number of us (as many as 45% of all lecturers on some campuses) not returning year to year. No matter where you end up next year, what happens with the UC-AFT contract matters. Many other colleges and universities nationwide take their cues on wages and security from big institutions like the UC. Winning here matters for all non-tenure-track faculty nationwide, and it can affect your future contracts even at other institutions. So please join in our collective actions and let the UC know you support UC lecturers.

Q: Have strikes worked for other UC employees?

The California Nurses Association has won many important contract gains with just a credible strike threat. This means that the UC administration believes they will actually go on strike. A credible strike threat can avert a strike and accomplish improvements in our contract. AFSCME 3299 and UPTE also have a record of successful strikes. They have stopped outsourcing, won significant pay increases, and defended against benefits takeaways.