UC Berkeley Ordered to Pay Student Instructors Who'd Been Underpaid for Years

Students walk near Sather Tower on the UC Berkeley campus. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An arbitrator has ordered UC Berkeley to retroactively pay student instructors who had been underpaid for years, a total that could reach several million dollars. The university must also end the practice now, according to a union representing the students.

The university said Wednesday that it would abide by the arbitrator's decision issued on Monday, and would work with the union on how to implement it.

The decision came more than two years after the UC Berkeley chapter of UAW 2865, the union representing academic student employees at the University of California, filed a complaint alleging that because the instructors weren't employed at 25% below full time (or 10 hours a week), they didn't get benefits like free tuition or other fee waivers negotiated under a collective bargaining agreement inked in 2000.

Most of the instructors were undergraduates employed at 20% below full time — putting those benefits just out of reach, Kavitha Iyengar, UAW 2865 president, said Wednesday.

"It's really not just about making sure that people can work and attend school. Public education is supposed to be something that everyone can access," she said. "And that's only possible if you have jobs like this to pay for your tuition."

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The union said the decision affects hundreds of instructors, most of them undergraduates in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) department. But the university said the decision applies only to that department. The university must make retroactive payments to those instructors who didn't receive the benefits since July 2017, Iyengar said.

"The university and the EECS faculty believed that appointments should be kept at 20% or less in order not to interfere with student academic performance," campus spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said in a statement.

A student instructor hired at 20% full-time employment last fall could receive about $7,500 from UC Berkeley under the decision, the union said.

The arbitrator has also directed EECS to stop hiring graduate and undergraduate student instructors below 25% full-time employment, Gilmore and Iyengar said.

The arbitrator's decision came amid a surge in the hiring of student instructors at below 25% full-time employment since 2015, the union said, citing its analysis of university data.

"The university thought they could get away with this because they thought they could do this to the undergrads," Iyengar said, noting that undergraduates were folded into the 25% agreement in 2007. "And they can't."

Iyengar also said the union has seen this problem emerge on a smaller scale on other UC campuses, like in Irvine and Los Angeles.

"The kind of precedent that this sets is a statewide matter," she added.

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