Monday, June 24, 2024

Strikes Hit All 10 UC Campuses as 48,000 Union Academics Walk

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No more teachers, no more books… About 48,000 unionized academic employees at the University of California, who carry out the lion’s share of teaching and research at all ten of university system’s campuses, walked off the job and onto a picket line Monday morning, the Los Angeles Times reports. They are calling for higher pay and better benefits, arguing that they don’t get paid enough to live on in the Golden State.

The workers on strike include academic researchers, teaching assistants, postdoctoral scholars, graduate student researchers, tutors, graders, and fellows.

“We have been bargaining throughout the weekend and while important progress has been made, we are still far apart on many of the issues that will make UC a more equitable university,” Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 2865, which represents 19,000 of the 48,000 workers, said in a statement Monday.

Workers are asking for meaningful raises, a minimum salary of $54,000 for all graduate students and $70,000 for all postdocs, according to the Washington Post, a number chosen because it could allow them afford to live closer to their campuses. They are also asking for subsidized childcare, better health care for dependents, passes for public transit, lower tuition for international scholars, and improved accessibility for workers with disabilities.

Currently, graduate students earn in the low $20,000s a year, and postdocs a minimum of $55,631.

“We’re trying to make transformational changes to our working conditions that will in turn impact the quality of research and education,” Neal Sweeney, the president of UAW Local 5810, which represents more than 11,000 UC postdocs and academic researchers, told the Post. “The issues we face are similar to other workers in this country. We’re inspired by other struggles at Starbucks and Amazon, and we hope our struggle will be inspiring to others as well.”

The economic situation for many graduate students is dire.

Jacob Kemner, a doctorate student in environmental studies at UC Riverside who makes $28,000, said he’s forced to donate blood plasma twice weekly for $200 to earn extra money.

“I’m making ends meet by selling plasma,” Kemner said. “I am less able to be effective in my job as a result of this because I spend six to 10 hours going to and from the plasma donation center. If I wasn’t spending time on that, I could be lesson planning and grading.”

With workers out on strike, the university will have to rely only on professors for grading and teaching, which could interrupt classes.

Last week, a group of 33 state legislators sent a letter supporting the grad student workers, asking UC President Michael Drake to negotiate in good faith with them.

“We urge the University of California to come to the table with the UAW’s four bargaining units in good faith to improve the working conditions of all Academic Workers and implement benefits and compensation commensurate with the immense value they provide the University,” they wrote. Both sides have been negotiating since last year.

Union leaders with the UAW, who is representing the workers, say the massive strike is the largest at any academic institution in history.

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