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Student Workers File to Unionize at UC Law San Francisco

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Students walk into UC Law San Francisco, formerly known as UC Hastings, on April 8, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

A group of approximately 200 graduate student workers at UC Law San Francisco on Tuesday filed to form a union, according to organizers.

The new collective bargaining unit, called United Legal Educators, comes as undergraduate and graduate workers have won collective bargaining rights across the state and country in recent years.

“It’s been hard for an isolated law school to come together for student workers and get a unified voice. But, luckily, there’s been a lot of effort in this unionization space,” said Stephen Cosenza, a legal research and writing teaching assistant at UC Law San Francisco. “We saw what was happening at other UCs and felt that momentum on our own campus and ran with it.”

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Organizers with United Legal Educators submitted paperwork with the California Public Employment Relations Board on Tuesday asking the state agency to officially recognize the union, which will represent library workers, admissions workers, teaching assistants, researchers and other student employees at the law school formerly called UC Hastings. Next, state and school officials must verify and recognize the union.

Graduate students organizing for better bargaining power at the law school said the two big issues they hope a union will help them address are resolving pay discrepancies and better responding to reports of discrimination.

Organizers like Cosenza cite higher pay at UC Berkeley’s graduate law school, where graduate student workers are represented by UAW 4811.

“I’m getting paid like $4 an hour. And we provide such an essential function,” Cosenza said. “We’re just trying to get something that is more equitable, you know, ideally at least on par with minimum wage.”

UC Law SF student workers are seeking to be recognized as a new bargaining unit with United Auto Workers, which currently represents more than 36,000 teaching assistants, as well as graduate student instructors, researchers and readers across the University of California system.

They will join tens of thousands of student workers across the country. In 2023 alone, 30 new student-worker collective bargaining units formed across the country, more than any year in the last decade, according to a 2023 study from the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies.

“It’s thrilling to see over 70% of student workers come together to raise the standards at UC Law SF,” said Mike Miller, director of UAW Region 6, in a press statement. “As these workers join 15,000 other UAW academic workers in the Bay Area and thousands more across the country, they are more than ready to negotiate a strong first contract.”

The largest strike in the history of U.S. higher education took place in 2022, when around 48,000 student workers, researchers, postdoctoral scholars and more walked out of the University of California’s 10 campuses.

“We’re excited to be joining a movement of academic workers forming unions across the country,” said Mikaela Gareeb, a legal research and writing teaching assistant at UC Law SF. “Many of us like our jobs because they give us an opportunity to help our peers build their skills; however, we deserve to be fairly compensated for the work that we put in.”

In a statement emailed to KQED, a spokesperson for UC Law SF said the institution supports student workers’ rights to unionize under the law.

“UC Law SF supports employees’ rights to decide whether or not they think union representation would be beneficial for them,” said John Kepley Chief Communications Officer for UC Law SF. “We have nothing further to add at this time and will engage with the process set forth by [the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act].”

This story has been updated.

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