This article was originally published in the Daily Cal.
On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed graduate student researchers collective bargaining rights at California’s public universities.
California State Senate Bill 259 would have extended a 1979 act that gave university employees the right to collectively bargain to apply to graduate student researchers. It would have affected more than 14,000 graduate student researchers at the University of California.
“Collaboration between faculty and research assistants is an integral part of their training and education,” Brown’s Sept. 30 veto message reads. “It is rare that this relationship is subject to collective bargaining at other universities.”
Brown’s decision follows opposing efforts by UC administrators urging him to veto the bill and by UC graduate students pushing for his signature.
According to Bahar Navab, president of the campus Graduate Assembly which supported the bill, students and members of the UC community signed a petition criticizing the UC administration for pushing for the veto and using “questionable justifications” for their stance against the bill. Navab called the veto “unfortunate.”
“Governor Brown had no real reason to veto this bill and honestly, it is demoralizing,” Navab said in an email. “Many grad students are working on the Governor’s Prop. 30 and yet he doesn’t stand up for their rights as graduate workers.”
Prop. 30 would increase the tax rate on the wealthiest Californians and raise the state sales tax by a quarter percent over the next four years.
The university has opposed SB 259 since January and penned a letter to Brown dated Aug. 31 asking him to veto the bill. The letter said the bill would change the mentor-mentee relationship between faculty and GSRs to an employer-employee relationship, increase the time required for students to complete their degrees and impose an administrative cost on the university of between $10 million and $18 million to cover the initial setup of the union systemwide.
“It would have placed the UC in a competitive disadvantage with other research institutions,” said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein. “Other research institutions don’t have this.”
In March, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill barring graduate student research assistants from unionizing at the state’s public universities, despite the University of Michigan Board of Regents’ vote to oppose it in February.
According to Rick Fitzgerald, University of Michigan spokesperson, GSIs and graduate student administrative assistants within the university are allowed to unionize, but graduate student research assistants are not.
Still, many UC Berkeley graduate students are disappointed in Brown’s veto and will continue to push for the rights of researchers to unionize.
“When I work as a GSR for the university, I can be hired; I can be fired,” said Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley graduate student and financial secretary of the student-workers union, UAW Local 2865. “I am an employee, just like anyone else … GSRs are workers, and we should be able to decide for ourselves if we want to form a union.”