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

Union-represented workers are walking out for an indefinite period of time after negotiations over their compensation and other issues stalled.

Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus
Catherine Offord
Catherine Offord

Catherine is a senior editor at The Scientist.

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ABOVE: The University of California, Berkeley, is one of the ten campuses hit by strike action. © ISTOCK.COM, KIRKIKIS

Thousands of academic workers employed by the University of California system are going on strike today (November 14) after union negotiations with the institution on issues such as compensation, transport, and employment contracts stalled.

The union, United Auto Workers (UAW), anticipates that up to 48,000 employees across UC’s ten campuses will walk out of their jobs, which would make this the largest academic strike in the history of US education, according to a statement that UAW sent to reporters. There is currently no agreed upon end to the strike, which is likely to disrupt classes and grading as this semester’s final exams approach in the next few weeks.

“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 or so of those 48,000 employees—says in the statement. “We are hopeful that UC will cease its Unfair Labor Practices and bargain with us in good faith.”

The strike action today includes four separate bargaining units, according to CBS News: postdocs, academic researchers, academic student employees, and graduate student researchers—the last of which only achieved official union recognition at the end of last year.

See “Unionization Efforts Pick Up Across US Universities

Negotiations between the parties have included discussions about compensation, housing, transport, and other issues facing employees who are struggling with the soaring cost of living in many parts of California.

For example, academic student employees such as teaching assistants and tutors, who currently receive around $24,000 per year, are demanding a minimum salary of $54,000, according to The New York Times. The university is instead offering an increase of 7 percent in year one, followed by increases of 3 percent each year after.

A UC statement issued last week (November 8) and circulated to reporters says that school administrators have shown “a genuine willingness to compromise.”

The university’s proposals to UAW include “multiyear pay increases, expanded paid leaves, increased family support, and childcare benefits . . . and full coverage of all campus fees for eligible” academic employees, the statement continues. “This is in addition to full UC coverage for tuition, healthcare, and student services for eligible [academic student employees and graduate student researchers]. UC believes these offers are generous, responsive to union priorities, and recognize the many valuable contributions of these employees.”

The union has also accused UC of “unlawful actions”—namely, failing to abide by legal obligations under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. For example, UAW argues that UC has unilaterally implemented “changes regarding compensation, appointments, transit, bullying protections, and more” and refused “to provide necessary and relevant information regarding bargaining topics and bargaining unit members.”

On its website, UC denies UAW’s accusations. “We strongly disagree with the UAW allegations that UC has engaged in unlawful behavior,” it says. “Despite these claims, UC remains committed to continuing its good faith efforts to reach agreements with UAW as quickly as possible.”

The union has secured support from more than 30 California legislators, who sent a joint letter to UC President Michael Drake last week. “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,” the letter reads. “By failing to do so, UC is risking mass disruption and losing the talent that has earned UC its prestigious reputation.”

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