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Members of UC student employee unions demand higher pay, discuss strike at rally

The United Auto Workers Local 2865 held a rally on Wednesday to call for improved working conditions for graduate students. Both teaching assistants and researchers at the University of California are represented by the UAW 2865. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

By Catherine Hamilton

Oct. 17, 2022 12:29 a.m.

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated only United Auto Workers Local 2865 attended the rally. In fact, United Auto Workers Local 2865, UAW 5810 and Student Researchers United-UAW attended the rally.

Editor’s note: This post was updated to reflect the roles of all three unions in attendance at the rally.

Members and supporters of the United Auto Workers Local 2865, UAW 5810 and Student Researchers United-UAW gathered at Janss Steps on Wednesday to call for better graduate student working conditions.

Each union represents University of California academic student employees, including teaching assistants, graduate student researchers and postdoctoral students. The rally included discussion of a motion for graduate students across the UC system to go on strike, which will be voted on later this year.

Union members at the rally also discussed the need for the UC to pay its student workers living wages.

Some UCLA graduate students are spending up to two-thirds of their income on housing costs or commuting long distances to work, said William Laderer, a doctoral student in chemistry.

“Sometimes I think about leaving the university just because I can’t afford it. … At some point, it’s like, I wonder is it even worth it to be here if I’m so uncomfortable,” Laderer said. “My work almost suffers from the lack of comfort and security that I have.”

Rally speakers called for the UC to also provide graduate student workers with free public transit passes to ease financial burdens and combat climate change.

It’s important to remember UCLA, even as a public university, still brings in money, said Shivani Davé, a doctoral student in education. She added that because neither UCLA nor the other UCs would be able to function without graduate student workers, those workers should be paid more than minimum wage.

“If this is supposed to be the future of cutting-edge research … and it’s not being acted at home, then what are you really learning from this place?” Davé said.

Davé said she attended the rally in part because the UC system makes a lot of money from the interest it receives on endowments, most of which goes back to the UC instead of its workers.

Desmond Fonseca, a graduate student researcher and doctoral student in history, said in a speech at the rally that many student workers had received pay cuts while chancellors of different UC campuses received pay raises and refused to provide living wages and affordable housing to workers.

Ryan King, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, said in an emailed statement that the UC and UAW have signed tentative agreements on issues such as workplace discrimination and the health and safety of workers.

Tobias Higbie, associate director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and a member of the American Federation of Teachers, said UAW’s fight for better working conditions is also for the next generations of graduate student workers. Undergraduate student workers should also take inspiration from the movement to fight for their own union protections, he added.

“Are we going to let UC dictate the future of academia? Or are we going to come together as disabled workers, as international workers, as parents, as postdocs and grad workers, to insist on the working conditions that we need and we deserve?” said Elsie Jacobson, a doctoral student in biological chemistry. “Together, we can shape a future UC that supports and includes all of us.”

Contributing reports from Shaanth Kodialam, features and student life editor.

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Catherine Hamilton | National news and higher education editor
Hamilton is the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor. She was previously a national news contributor. She is also a second-year English and political science student.
Hamilton is the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor. She was previously a national news contributor. She is also a second-year English and political science student.
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