Thousands of University of California teaching assistants, academic workers go on strike

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In the biggest work stoppage of the year, thousands of academic workers in the University of California system went on strike Monday over the university system’s bargaining practices with their union, which is trying to secure higher wages.

About 48,000 teaching assistants, postdocs, researchers and students on the front lines of teaching and research at California’s prestigious public university system are seeking a minimum annual salary of $54,000 and increased child care benefits, saying they do not have enough to live in the state. . They also accused the university of not bargaining in good faith with its union, the United Auto Workers.

“At every turn, the university has tried to act unlawfully at the bargaining table, which prevents us from reaching an agreement,” said Neal Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5810, which represents more than 11,000 UC postdocs and academic researchers.

The University of California strike is also the largest academic strike at a university in US history, according to the UAW.

Bargaining unit representing UC academic workers said the university leadership has illegally made changes to pay and transit benefits without consulting the union. They also alleged that the university refused to provide necessary information about who was in the bargaining unit and that others obstructed the bargaining process. Negotiations have been going on for more than a year.

University officials denied allegations that their negotiators had broken the law during the negotiations. They said that they have done a good job of bargaining as shown by the various tentative agreements that the parties have reached.

Ryan King, a UC system spokesman, said school administrators have listened to the union’s priorities, provided a fair response and shown a “genuine commitment to compromise.”

“Our main goal in these negotiations is to reach a multiyear agreement that recognizes the important and valued contributions of these employees to the teaching and research mission of the University with fair salaries, quality health and family-friendly benefits, and a supportive and respectful work environment,” King King said. said in a statement.

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The strike threatens to disrupt classes, research and grading ahead of final exams at the UC system’s 10 campuses. Students must rely solely on professors for grades, teaching and one-on-one instruction.

University administrators and the union continued to meet over the weekend into Sunday night, with some progress toward a deal, but union officials said they remained far apart on the core issue of wages.

In the days leading up to the strike, several UC professors held office said they have the right to cancel classes when they stop working and to speak in solidarity with academic workers.

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The strike comes amid a wave of labor activity in the United States, fueled by pandemic working conditions and an overheated labor market that has made workers more likely to negotiate for pay and schedule improvements. Workers have scored historic union victories at Amazon, Starbucks and Apple this year. Minnesota recently faced the largest private-sector strike in the nursing industry in US history.

The United Auto Workers is asking UC leadership for a minimum salary of $54,000 for all graduate students and a minimum salary of $70,000 for all postdocs, as well as annual cost-of-living adjustments in contract negotiations. Many graduate students earn as low as $20,000 a year, and postdocs earn a minimum of $55,631. The union has also requested $2,000 a month in child care reimbursements, expanded paid parental leave and public transit passes for its members.

“We are trying to make transformational changes to our working conditions that will affect the quality of research and education,” said Sweeney, the union leader. “The issues we face are the same as other workers in this country. We are inspired by the struggles of others at Starbucks and Amazon, and we hope our struggles will inspire others as well.

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The university system is offering salary increases from 4 percent to 7 percent in the first year of the contract, with smaller subsequent increases. Workers have rejected those offers, saying they are too low. For example, many teaching assistants will earn less than $30,000 a year with our university’s proposal.

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University negotiators have also offered childcare stipends between $2,500 and $4,050 a year and some transit subsidies. Some workers receive $3,300 in child care subsidies a year. Workers have said the proposed annual stipend would barely cover a month of childcare. Still, the union says, bigger pay increases are essential to winning contracts that improve the quality of life for its members.

University leadership maintains that “providing fair and competitive wages to all employees is a UC priority and is essential to ensure the excellence of our workforce and the quality of our services to students and the community,” UC administrators said in a press release.

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The increase in militancy around cost-of-living demands in the UC system follows a wave of illegal “wild cat” strikes that broke out at UC Santa Cruz and spread across several UC campuses in 2021. Workers are demanding cost-of-living stipends to account for soaring housing prices in the country. After the strike, UC Santa Cruz agreed to increase housing stipends for teaching assistants.

The union said the majority of UC graduate students spend more than a third of their income on rent. For example, teaching assistants at UCLA earn an average of $24,000 a year, the union said. The median annual rent in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area is more than $36,000 a year, according to Realtor.com.

UC teaching assistants describe commuting hours away for affordable housing, donating blood plasma to make ends meet and paying more than half their income in rent.

Jacob Kemner, a doctoral student in environmental studies at UC Riverside, makes about $28,000 a year and donates blood plasma twice a week for an extra income of about $200.

“I’m making ends meet by selling plasma,” Kemner said. “I am less able to be effective in my work because of this because I spend six to 10 hours going to and from the plasma donation center. If I don’t spend that time, I can plan lessons and assessments.

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Aya Konisha, a teaching assistant and second-year PhD student in the sociology department at UCLA, said she can’t live near campus and has to commute an hour on public transportation to get to school.

“My salary is definitely not enough to make ends meet,” said Konisha, whose rent takes up half of her $2,400 monthly income. “I make all my meals at home. I don’t buy very expensive things and often skip meals when I have to teach. UCLA is supposed to be the number one public university in the United States … but it’s very unfair.

The United Auto Workers has filed 28 unfair labor practices against the UC system this year for failing to bargain in good faith. The state of California is investigating the allegations, and has issued two complaints against the UC system.

UC officials denied these allegations, and they said that despite these claims, the system “remains committed to continuing its good faith efforts to reach an agreement with the UAW as quickly as possible.”

In August 2021, the UAW, which has been deviating from higher education, accepted 17,000 student researchers, in the biggest union victory of the year.

Earlier this month, the UAW announced that 97 percent of the more than 36,000 workers who voted in the UC system had authorized an unfair labor strike.

Ahead of the strike, 36 California lawmakers sent a letter to UC President Michael Drake, urging him to avert the strike by “stopping unfair labor practices.”

Roughly 53,000 California-based UPS employees in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, will be able to avoid delivering to the UC campus during the strike, a move authorized by two branches of the Teamsters union.



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