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UC academic workers walk out in largest US strike since 2019

UCLA academic workers picket near the Inverted Fountain as part of a University of California-wide strike. The workers are part of three unions represented by the United Auto Workers, and are striking for better wages and working conditions at the UC. (Myka Fromm/Daily Bruin)

By Catherine Hamilton and Shaanth Kodialam

Nov. 14, 2022 3:34 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 15 at 10:38 p.m.

UCLA academic workers joined tens of thousands of their peers across the University of California system in striking for more equitable wages and better working conditions.

Rallies erupted at the Broad Art Center, Bunche Hall, the Inverted Fountain, Engineering VI and the Gonda Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center starting at 8 a.m., with hundreds of workers from a coalition of unions under the United Auto Workers – representing teaching assistants, postdoctoral scholars, student researchers and more – on the picket line. Some strikers held signs with messages such as “UAW On Strike Unfair Labor Practice,” while chanting “We’ve got the power!” in response to calls from rally organizers. 

According to the Washington Post, the strike is the largest labor stoppage in the U.S. since 2019, and the largest academic strike ever held in higher education. Two branches of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union also allowed UPS employees represented by the union to avoid delivering to UC campuses for the duration of the strike.

Nearly 98% of UAW’s members voted to authorize a strike on Nov. 2, alleging that the UC has engaged in several unfair labor practices since they began bargaining with workers in spring 2021. 

“We are still far apart on many of the issues that will make UC a more equitable university: dignified compensation that addresses the crisis of affordable housing, access to transportation benefits so those who must commute can do so affordably and with a minimal carbon footprint, Non-Resident Supplemental Tuition Remission, and appointment lengths,” said Rafael Jaime, UAW 2865 president, in a press release Monday. “We are hopeful that UC will cease its Unfair Labor Practices and bargain with us in good faith.”

[Related: UC academic employees vote to strike for better working conditions, wages, housing]

Out of 27 charges filed with the Public Employment Relations Board by the unions, six have received a complaint back from the board, indicating a violation of labor practices may have been committed. A Nov. 13 status update from the coalition indicates that the unions have reached agreements with the UC on grievance processes for violations of bargaining agreements.

Since the authorization of the strike, student researchers have met with the University and appear to be making good progress, said Michael Dean, a doctoral student and teaching fellow in the history department who attended the rally. However, Dean, who is also the recording secretary for the UCLA unit of UAW Local 2865, said there are no significant updates on improving living conditions and increasing wages.

Many graduate students are torn about participating in the strike but still want to make the University more accessible and fair, Dean added.

“We love what we do,” Dean said. “We don’t necessarily want to go on strike, but because of the University’s unlawful behavior and the bargaining process, this is the position that they’ve forced us into.” 

In a letter to the editor published in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Brown, the UC’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, claimed the UC has been fairly negotiating with the unions, adding that workers have been offered multi-year wage increases.

Anna Markowitz, an assistant professor of education, said she came to join the picketing to support her graduate student teaching assistants, who are essential to the University. Academic student workers are owed a living wage, as the cost of living is high in California, especially Los Angeles, said Graeme Blair, an associate professor of political science who was at the rally by Bunche Hall.

The University has the means to pay students better, he said, adding that student workers deserve equal opportunity to work at and learn from institutions of higher education.

“Whether or not we can meet all of their demands, we certainly should be meeting some of them,” Markowitz said. “They deserve all of our support as they go forward.”

UCLA administrators said in a systemwide email Monday morning that the UC hopes to reach an agreement with the union soon. Classes and research activities are expected to continue to operate as usual, they added, although some instructors may decide not to hold class during the strike.

“Not every teaching moment happens in the classroom. Sometimes, teaching moments happen on the picket line,” Dean said. “My message to them (students) would be that a temporary disruption to the research and teaching mission of the university is worth a long-term solution.”

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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.
Shaanth Kodialam | Features and student life editor
Kodialam is the 2022-2023 features and student life editor. They were previously a News reporter for national news and higher education and features and student life. They are a second-year communication and geography student.
Kodialam is the 2022-2023 features and student life editor. They were previously a News reporter for national news and higher education and features and student life. They are a second-year communication and geography student.
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