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Labor unions rally to demand UC end rent burden, provide affordable housing

Rally attendees stand outside of Murphy Hall. Multiple University of California labor unions called for more affordable housing options Thursday. (Megan Cai/Daily Bruin)

By Clara Schwartz

Feb. 21, 2022 11:27 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 23 at 8:44 a.m.

Student workers, supporters and members of University of California labor unions rallied Thursday to demand affordable housing.

Members of United Auto Workers 2865, United Auto Workers Local 5810 and Student Researchers United-UAW gathered at Murphy Hall at 1 p.m. as graduate students spoke about the need to alleviate the rent burden for UC workers. UCLA’s rally was one of several housing rallies that occurred this week across UC campuses.

Patrick Dexter, a representative of UAW 2865, said in a press release that 90% of academic student employees and over 70% postdoctoral students are rent-burdened, meaning they spend a third or more of their income on rent. He added that the unions coordinating last week’s rallies represent more than 48,000 workers at the UC.

The unions demand the UC ends rent burden for academic workers, provide housing subsidies and guarantee University housing for those who face discriminatory housing practices, he said in the press release.

As they are negotiating new contracts with the UC administration, the unions are hoping for increased salaries and cheaper University housing, said Michael Dean, a history doctoral student and UAW 2865 representative.

“We are the workers who do the fundamental teaching and research labor that makes the University the world class institution that it is, and yet we can’t afford to live where we work,” he added.

The University of California Office of the President did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Joseph Hsing/Daily Bruin)
UC labor unions wrote words related to the lack of affordable housing and low wages in the format of a popular online word game called Wordle. (Joseph Hsing/Daily Bruin)

Outside of Murphy Hall, graduate students shared their experiences paying and searching for housing while working at a UC campus.

Chiara Pavone, an Asian languages and cultures doctoral student, said landlords in Los Angeles often require proof of income three times the rent, yet many apartment prices are at least 50% to 70% of their total income.

International students face unique challenges when it comes to finding housing, she said. Since international students often do not have credit, they may struggle to find private housing, she added.

Having a disability has created additional financial burdens for Alexis Weber, a student researcher and speaker at the rally. Expensive medical care combined with high rent cause her to live below the poverty line in LA, she said.

“I’ve been regularly forced to choose between either paying for rent or paying for medical treatment and care,” she added.

The University’s actions should reflect its claims to care about minority and disabled students, Weber said.

(Joseph Hsing/Daily Bruin)
Graduate students and other supporters gather to listen to rally speakers. (Joseph Hsing/Daily Bruin)

Other speakers also faced hardships because of the high cost of housing.

Milan Roberson, a speaker at the rally and physics doctoral student, said starting a family amid high financial pressures can be challenging for academic workers. Many women that she knows have had to delay or forego having children because of low pay and job instability, she added.

In addition, commuting is an issue for graduate students because they often cannot afford to live near campus, Roberson said.

Wan Yeung, an ethnomusicology student researcher, said he wishes the graduate housing system would take equity considerations into account instead of being a general lottery.

A lot of students who have a great need for housing do not receive a housing spot, Yeung said.

Shota Vashakmadze, an architecture graduate student and member of UAW 2865, said he hopes the university administration will lower rents for university housing and grant workers a housing stipend.

Weber said though she believes the University treats researchers as expendable, Thursday’s rally gives her a reason to remain hopeful.

“Seeing this crowd and everyone showing up makes me confident that we can get the equity that we deserve,” she said.

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