Monday, May 6, 2013

Press Release: Yolo DA Punts, Banker's Dozen Walks





6 MAY 2013

More than a year after after Yolo County District Attorney's office filed 21 misdemeanor charges each against a dozen political protestors, threatening 11 years in jail along with a million dollars in damages, the case has been resolved. The resolution comes in advance of a trial that Assistant District Attorney Michael Cabral was seemingly anxious to avoid, perhaps unwilling to burn further County funds on another failed effort at political repression. Each protestor accepted an infraction ticket and nominal community service.

Last January and February, numerous protestors peacefully blockaded the campus offices of USBank. The branch shuttered its doors and abandoned the sweetheart deal through which it purchased captive customers from the university. Twelve students and staff were selected arbitrarily for the hyperbolic charges. Evidence gathered via subpoena now shows a national network of high-priced attorneys, public relations executives, security professionals, and corporate administrators deployed, not to protect bank or university community, but to exact as much punishment as possible. In the end, the UC administration, the bank, and the DA did not get their wish.

Evidence also shows that the prosecution was largely driven by the university's top administrators who, despite having high-salaried in-house council, elected to spend considerable public money on private attorneys. One upscale San Francisco firm was retained solely to avoid exposure of any internal documents regarding UCD's relations with the bank, and to conceal the administration's dossiers on students, staff, and faculty. Like the DA and police, the university seemed motivated by the need to send a message regarding the risks of protest — a message sometimes written in pepper spray.

In this case, the message turned out to be: no convictions, no bureaucratic revenge, and no bank. The absurd case is now history. The questions of the university's increasing entanglement with finance; the catastrophe of student debt; and the systematically brutal, excessive, and wasteful criminalization of protest remain very much of the moment.

for further information: Kristin Koster (530) 902-2493


The Exploitation of Undergraduate Workers at UC Berkeley's Student Learning Center

Undergraduate students are workers in training.  Not only does university education train and sift students into particular lines of work, but the rising costs of education and associated student debt burdens also lock students into futures defined by waged work.  Undergraduate students are not simply oriented toward work they will have to perform in the future though; they also work for wages at the same time as they are enrolled.  Students have to pay for their food and lodging, and often hold down multiple, part-time jobs in order to do so, including food service, clerical, and academic jobs.  Some of this work occurs on campus, meaning that university administrators are not simply managing students' educational experience, but also managing their lives as workers.  Work on campus is often minimally compensated.  And, while some undergraduate jobs are covered by collective bargaining agreements, most of these jobs are non-union.  Students' lives are thus defined by often impossible attempts to juggle work performed for credit and work performed for (minimal) pay.

At UC Berkeley, a conflict is currently taking place that will determine how work at one of the primary places of undergraduate employment on campus will be defined, whether this work will be compensated, and whether it will be covered by a collective bargaining agreement.  The stakes of this conflict are very high: if university management prevails, they will have taken a step toward normalizing unwaged academic work, toward devaluing all academic labor, and toward diminishing the quality of academic support all UC students can expect.

The Student Learning Center (SLC) at UC Berkeley employs over 250 undergraduates as tutors, who provide support for other students around writing assignments, math problem sets, and other academic activities.  Tutors are assigned to particular tutees, facilitate group learning activities, and also work shifts at the SLC, where they help students who drop in to the Center with questions about a particular assignment.  The image below offers a sense of the scale of this work: on most days, all the tables in the SLC are filled with tutors offering support to tutees.

While university administrators have refused to provide any data on employment patterns at the SLC, anecdotally we know that in recent years -- following local austerity measures -- SLC administrators have begun to hire a significant percentage of tutors for unpaid, "practicum" positions.  Students seeking employment at the SLC are made to fill out an application form where they list their previous experience and other job-related qualifications.  The form then asks them to check boxes indicating whether they would be willing to work in paid and/or unpaid positions at the SLC.  If they check both boxes, applicants can expect to be told after their interview that no more paid positions are available, and that they are being offered an unpaid, "practicum" position, where they will tutor for four or five hours per week, and take a pedagogy seminar as well for a couple hours each week.  It has gotten to the point where tutors see these unpaid positions as a kind of required internship, or unwaged training period, to be performed for a semester before they have any chance of working for pay at the SLC.

All tutoring work throughout the UCs is covered by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated two years ago by the University and the UC Student-Worker Union (UAW 2865).  Thus, UC Berkeley's move toward what is essentially an unpaid internship program at the SLC undercuts the Recognition clause of the UAW 2865 contract, which stipulates that all tutors will be represented by the union and will be entitled to payment and workplace protections outlined within the other articles of the contract.  Given this clear and systemic violation of the contract, a couple of union head stewards, working together with a group of unwaged tutors, filed a grievance with UC labor relations a few months ago, challenging the practice of hiring unpaid tutors at the SLC.

The grievance is entering into its final stage, after which -- assuming the University continues to deny our claim -- the union would be entitled to appeal to third-party arbitration.  Now is an important time to put pressure on University administrators to adequately fund the SLC and to end the hyper-exploitative practice of running the SLC on unwaged labor.  The tutors and head stewards working on this grievance have been organizing on the ground, have put together a petition and have been publicizing the grievance.  If you haven't yet, please sign the petition calling on university administrators to fully fund the SLC and to pay all tutors for their work.