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Students express concerns over, support for academic workers’ strike

Academic workers on strike, pictured. Students expressed mixed feelings in response to thousands of academic employees striking across UCLA and the University of California. (Alice Yang/Daily Bruin)

By Dylan Winward and Jon Trujillo

Nov. 20, 2022 11:44 p.m.

Students expressed support for the demands of the ongoing academic workers’ strike, but voiced concerns about the prolonged cancellations of classes and absence of normal educational resources.

The strikes, which protest against unfair labor practices and advocate for more equitable wages, represent the largest higher education strike in U.S. history, according to The Washington Post. Hundreds of teaching assistants, graduate student researchers and other academic workers who are part of different unions under the United Auto Workers walked out from their usual educational responsibilities this week to strike.

Many Bruins reported that certain campus operations, such as discussion sections for classes and office hours, have been suspended or moved to online formats.

In solidarity with the strike, some students have also begun skipping classes, with some even joining the picket line. Sabina Castillo, a fourth-year Chicana and Chicano studies student, said she has been supporting the strike by urging fellow students to stop going to class and encouraging them to join the protests. Since many students will pursue higher education after graduation, they should use their voices to help the UAW since they may find themselves in the situation the union is fighting to change, they added.

“I have not been to class all week,” Castillo said. “I’ve been respectful of the picket, as I think most undergraduate students should be. … You could be out here, you should be out here – this affects all of us.”

Castillo said although students may be sacrificing part of their grade to support the strike, the benefits that the UAW aims to create on campus will outweigh the possibility of a drop in GPA.

Seadona Taloma, a fourth-year philosophy student, said that seeing the dedication of the strikers brings her both pride and sorrow. They said that they were upset with the conditions under which graduate students have been working, which has pushed them to to stop pursuing their goals of attending graduate school altogether. However, Taloma said it was inspiring to see the strikers sacrificing their own time and money to create a better future for the graduate program.

Taloma said she has personally witnessed the poor working conditions many of these graduate students face. It is unacceptable for academic employees to be treated this way when they play such an essential role in undergraduate education, she added.

However, some students have found the strike to be disruptive to their learning environment.

Grace Pellegrino, a third-year mechanical engineering student, said she generally supports the strike, but added she was concerned over effects on her academics, citing an interruption to a midterm examination. About halfway through the two-hour exam, she heard chanting and loud horns outside her lecture hall. The door to the lecture hall was open and about 20 protesters entered, continuing to chant and blow their horns as students sat their exam, she said. The protesters left after a few minutes, she added.

“If I fail that midterm, that can make me have to pay and do the class again,” Pellegrino said. “I think it’s a very important cause. But … I’m not the only person that’s had a midterm interrupted, which is a little bit frustrating.”

Similarly, Emily Tieu, a third-year environmental science student, said the strike was preventing her from learning as effectively as possible, adding that it has also blocked her access to the vital help with labs and homeworks that her teaching assistant normally provides.

Taloma also said the strike has placed new stress on her this quarter.

“I’m in my senior year and I’m trying to develop my honors thesis,” said Taloma. “It’s scary to think that I won’t have any more guidance in this, which is exactly the pressure the TAs are trying to create.”

Some classes have even seen their methods of evaluation modified. Tieu said one of her professors has already canceled the class’s final exam, instead opting to assign a final project.

The UAW locals and University of California have yet to finish negotiations, according to the latest bargaining update on the unions’ website, meaning that it is currently unknown how long the strikes, and disruptions to student learning, will last.

Katie Callo, a first-year cognitive science student, said she hopes for a timely end to the strike.

“I just hope that it all gets resolved soon and that all the TAs are able to make a living wage after this and that no student suffers from this,” Callo said.

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