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University of California, Striking Workers Unions Reach Tentative Deal

The agreement, which is not yet ratified, would increase academic workers’ salaries, but some call for an ongoing strike as the raises are less than desired.

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Dan Robitzski

Dan is a Staff Writer and Editor at The Scientist. He writes and edits for the news desk and oversees the “The Literature” and “Modus Operandi” sections of the monthly TS Digest and quarterly print magazine. He has a background in neuroscience and earned his master's in science journalism at New York University.

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On Friday (December 16), the University of California reached a tentative agreement with the leadership of the academic workers’ unions that have been on strike since November 14, potentially signaling an imminent end to the historic standoff, the Associated Press reports.

All in all, the strike is “providing guidance to indicate that strikes are very forceful means of accomplishing goals,” William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York, tells the AP.

The strike included roughly 48,000 academic workers, including graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and other union-represented titles, who collectively agreed to withhold their labor and research efforts until the University of California (UC) agreed to increase their stipends to a base of $54,000, and offer benefits such as childcare, tuition, and healthcare. Teaching assistants, the lowest paid of the group, start at $24,000 per year, currently.

See “Up to 48,000 University of California Academic Workers Go on Strike

The UC has offered some but not all of those concessions, agreeing to increase the minimum stipend to $34,000. However, base pay would only immediately increase by $2,000, with the rest of the raise metered out between now and October 2024, according to Lookout Santa Cruz. The university system also offered some childcare and family leave support and guaranteed longer appointments for workers, granting heightened job security. The majority of the unions’ leadership has agreed to the deal, which now goes to union membership for a vote. If a majority of striking workers sign on to the deal between now and Friday (December 23), a new contract will go into effect and the strike will end.

However, union members seem to be split on whether to sign, according to Science: Some support the push to ratify an imperfect contract that addresses some but not all of their concerns, while others advocate for rejecting the deal and continuing to strike until the university system offers greater concessions.

See “Unionization Efforts Pick Up Across US Universities

“While this contract is not perfect, I think that this strike has reached a critical point and I am proud of what we’ve managed to do here given the monumental challenge we are up against,” Katelyn Yu, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, tells Science.

However, 21 bargaining unit members have signed a collective letter saying that they voted against the deal “based on our belief that the UC’s mediated proposals fail to deliver on the major demands of the strike. More importantly, our assessment is that our strike remains very strong, and has unfulfilled potential to extract a better offer from the UC.”

All bargaining unit members from the UC Santa Cruz, Merced, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Riverside campuses voted against the deal, according to Lookout Santa Cruz. That’s partially because the benefits offered across the board such as pay raises and childcare support, fall short of their needs, but also because the deal negotiates better pay at other UC campuses—including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley—than it does at theirs.

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