After more than two years of collective bargaining, during which lecturers met with UC management’s executives and lawyers about 50 times and exchanged hundreds of proposals, on June 18, 2021, your colleagues on the UC-AFT Unit 18 faculty bargaining team filed for impasse with the California Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) and requested mediation.
By asking that PERB declare impasse and begin mediation, our union is stating that we have no further movement to make on the core issues that remain in dispute. We are standing firm on the issues that matter most to our members.
On June 25, 2021, the California Public Employee Relations Bureau (PERB) agreed with us that an impasse exists and certified our request for a state-sponsored mediator.
Impasse comes after an historic strike authorization vote in which, for the first time in 20 years, an overwhelming majority of 96% of UC-AFT lecturers who voted empowered their democratically-elected negotiating team to call a strike if necessary. And it comes after our lecturer bargaining team presented our last, best, and final contract proposal on May 25th, 2021, containing our final compromises on our core demands of evaluation and renewal processes, workload, and compensation. UC management’s June 15th response contained no provisions for pre-six evaluation and renewal, no provisions to address the widespread exploitation of unpaid work, and a compensation proposal that is unlikely to keep up with inflation. Now we enter a new phase in our contract campaign, one focused not on bargaining at the negotiating table, but on collective action.
How is impasse declared?
PERB may determine that an impasse exists when “the parties have reached a point in meeting and conferring at which their differences in positions are such that further meetings would be futile." (Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act [HEERA], Government Code Section 3562(j).)
On June 18, 2021, UC-AFT submitted a request for determination of impasse to PERB. PERB declared impasse on June 25th.
What happens after an impasse is declared?
Once PERB recognizes an impasse, the union and employer bargaining teams participate in mediation and fact-finding. The State Mediation and Conciliation Service will appoint a mediator who will work with both sides to see if there is a route to a settled contract. UC-AFT received word on June 30 that two mediators have been assigned and will begin their work in the coming days. Unfortunately, this mediation is non-binding, and our experience in other non-binding PERB mediations (for example, in attempting to settle Unfair Labor Practice charges) is that UC management sometimes delays scheduling for mediation sessions and declines to participate in good faith.
Once mediation officially begins, the mediator will work with both parties for a maximum of 15 days to reach an agreement, at which point the mediator will release UC-AFT and UC management to form a three-member fact-finding panel. Parties can request that fact-finding begin before the 15 day deadline, an option UC-AFT will likely pursue to move the process along. Each party selects one member of the fact-finding panel, and PERB appoints a neutral chair. Both sides will submit documents supporting their positions. The fact-finding panel is also vested with subpoena power and may request records, papers, and information related to its investigation. The panel will produce a report with non-binding advisory recommendations. Because our final offers were based on practices that are well established at universities similar to our own, we expect that this report and its recommendations will support our positions.
How long does the impasse process take and what are the possible outcomes?
The state government requires mediation and fact-finding to delay and even prevent workers from going on strike. Because of UC management’s interest in slowing down the process, as well as scheduling and other bureaucratic uncertainties, mediation and fact-finding can take anywhere from three to eight months. Although our bargaining team won’t be meeting with UC management at the negotiating table during this impasse period, we will work to move things along as quickly as possible and try to reach an agreement with UC management.
The private, opaque nature of mediation and fact-finding, combined with the potential for long delays, means that all lecturers will have to work together in other public venues to pressure key administrative decision-makers and motivate UC management to shift their bargaining positions. Our ability to reach an agreement during mediation and fact-finding will rely almost entirely on our organizing efforts to build and use power, on building coalitions with our allies, on campus and in the community, and on activating and engaging our fellow teaching faculty.
While our demands are thoroughly researched and evidenced, and we believe the fact-finding panel’s report and non-binding recommendations will support them, UC management will not be required to follow those recommendations. Mediation and fact-finding are therefore unlikely to add significant pressure on UCOP to reach a fair agreement. However, a good mediation report may be persuasive to the UC Board of Regents, who may act on its recommendations, and can be a useful tool in public relations. Completing mediation and fact-finding will give lecturers the right to conduct a legal strike over the core terms of the contract dispute, a strike in which our jobs and our livelihoods are protected because retaliation by management is illegal. If mediation and fact-finding do not result in an agreement, winning a fair contract will likely require withholding our labor.
Impasse therefore marks a crucial moment in our campaign -- now is the time for action.
How can I help my union during the impasse process to secure an agreement?
Your colleagues on campuses across the state have developed a multi-faceted organizing plan for the summer so we can build our coalitions and our collective power. It will involve direct collective action, significant outreach with our allies, including state legislators, senate faculty members, students and alumni, and our UC union coalitions, as well as periodic virtual and in-person actions. You can sign up to join your colleagues in any or all of these efforts here.
Our current call to action is for members to send letters to the Executive Vice Chancellor and/or Provost on their campus. Sign it now, if you haven’t already, and share with your colleagues.
To learn more about how you can get involved as we build toward strike readiness, contact your local campus organizing committee.