Monday Memo: news & views about working at UC
For the Week of January 25, 2016
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When UC threatened in fall of 2014 to increase tuition, Governor Brown negotiated a budget deal that promised UC increased funding in exchange for a tuition freeze and “reforms” to the UC pension system for employees hired after July 1, 2016. UC’s Task Force report came out on Friday, and according to Remaking the University, new hires would face “dramatically reduced retirement benefits compared to current employees.” The plan undermines the pension system and shifts employees to an inferior 403b plan.

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After the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association on January 11, speculation grew that the court may well deal a severe blow to public sector unions – and consequently the labor movement itself and the nation’s working people, according to articles in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and Sacramento Bee, among others.  The case could end “fair share” union fees, imposing a nationwide “right to work” regime on public sector workplaces. It is backed by an array of right-wing groups, according to the American Prospect, including those funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

The court’s ruling is expected in June. Meanwhile, unions are ramping up organizing plans, while writers in Labor Notes, Counterpunch and In These Times argue that the case provides an impetus for creative organizing with the potential to strengthen workers’ movements. Charlotte Garden argues in the Atlantic that strong public sector unions make for better public services. The San Diego Union-Tribune published this op-ed by a teacher on why the court should support fair share fees. Find out what the case could mean to UC workers in the latest UPTE Update, or immerse yourself in the court documents at the SCOTUS Blog.

There is a scary side to seemingly benign employee wellness programs, a topic covered in today’s New York Times: “Many employees now face stiff financial penalties — often in the form of higher premiums — if they do not have their cholesterol checked or join programs to lose weight or better manage diabetes.” A series of court rulings has been chipping away at employees’ rights to refuse participation.

Graduate employees at Columbia University got another chance to a union when the National Labor Relations Board agreed to review their appeal. Graduate Workers of Columbia University, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers, first filed for an election in 2014. In November 2015 a regional judge of the NLRB rejected that petition on the grounds that the graduate students were primarily students and not workers. However, the full board has agreed to take up the union’s appeal.

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