Academic Student Employees Reach Tentative Agreement With California State University

On the day their contract was set to expire, academic student employees reached a tentative agreement with California State University. It includes changes to salaries and sick leave policies.
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Margaret Attridge is a news reporter for BestColleges focusing on higher education news stories in California. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2022 with a BA in journalism and government and politics....
Published on October 3, 2023
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  • Academic student employees have reached a tentative agreement with California State University.
  • The new contract includes salary raises and other benefits such as expanded sick leave.
  • Over 10,000 academic student employees across the CSU system — including teaching associates, graduate assistants, and instructional student assistants — are represented by UAW Local 4123.

Academic student employees across the California State University (CSU) system reached a tentative agreement with the university just as their contract was set to expire.

The CSU system's 10,000 academic student employees (ASEs) are represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). UAW Local 4123 includes teaching associates, graduate assistants, and instructional student assistants across the CSU system's 23 campuses.

The tentative agreement, subject to ratification by both parties, includes salary increases, changes to paid and sick leave, and updates to gender-neutral language. If approved, the contract would last two years.

Lark Winner, a master's student studying public administration at California State University, San Bernardino and president of UAW 4123, told BestColleges that compensation and sick leave were two of the main focuses for CSU's unionized academic workers. Other demands included access to affordable housing and transportation and protections from harassment and bullying.

The tentative contract includes a 5% salary increase for all bargaining unit employees, retroactive to July 1, 2023, and an additional 5% increase for the fiscal year 2024-2025. The proposal would also increase the minimum and maximum rate for salary by 5% each time, meaning new employees would get a higher starting wage.

"One of our main priorities [was] addressing the financial precarity that our members are in," Winner said. "California is an incredibly expensive state to live in, and our wages have not kept pace with what it costs to live in the cities where CSU campuses are."

The tentative agreement also includes expanded paid sick leave for teaching associates and graduate assistants, who previously were not included in the contract language.

"The majority of our members [did not] have access to paid sick leave, and coming off of the pandemic … those lessons should have been learned about how important it is for people to have access to paid leave," Winner said.

"Not just for their own personal health and wellness, but for the health and wellness of the community so that folks don't feel compelled to come to work sick and potentially get more people sick at the campus."

The contract negotiations occurred at the same time as the CSU Board of Trustees voted to approve tuition increases by 6% per academic year, for a total of five years, beginning at the start of the 2024-2025 academic year, in part due to a $1.5 billion funding gap.

Over five academic years, the increased tuition rates are expected to generate around $841 million in revenue, with $148 million expected in the first year of increases.

Winner said the union was opposed to raising tuition, in part, because ASEs don't get tuition waivers so they will have to pay even more to work for the university. She said that the largest public, four-year higher education institution in the country can choose to prioritize its funding in a way that works for all employees.

"We do push back against the narrative that the CSU has these funding gaps and has to raise tuition because the CSU could prioritize their funding differently," she said.

"Campus presidents are getting 30% pay increases, and the new chancellor has a million-dollar compensation package. They do find funding when they want to for priorities that they feel are important, and it doesn't seem to be for the workers who are actually teaching and running the campuses."

Cross-Union Collaboration

The CSU is the latest university to negotiate contracts with unionized student workers.

Last fall, academic student workers at the University of California (UC), also represented by UAW, failed to reach a contract with the university. This led some 48,000 researchers, postdocs, and teaching assistants across the system's 10 campuses to embark on the longest academic strike in U.S. history and secure changes to compensation, benefits, and worker protections for the academic workers.

Winner said UAW 4213 was "deeply connected" to its union siblings, and closely watched how union negotiations and contracts had played out across the state and country.

"Most cities that have a UC campus also have a CSU campus. We are deeply connected around these issues because we're all on the same page. We're all trying to survive in California while pursuing higher education," Winner said.

"All academic workers, regardless of the university system, deserve to have work that treats them with dignity."