UCLA faculty, undergraduates rally on campus in support of UAW strike
UCLA students and community members gather at a United Auto Workers union rally. The academic workers of UAW have been on strike since Nov. 14, claiming that the University of California is not meeting demands. (Megan Cai/Assistant Photo editor)
This post was updated Nov. 25 10:25 p.m.
Dozens of UCLA faculty, members of various entertainment unions and undergraduate students joined picket lines Monday and Tuesday in support of an ongoing University of California-wide academic worker strike.
Monday marked one week since the beginning of a UC-wide union strike as thousands of academic workers represented by United Auto Workers – including teaching assistants, graduate student researchers and postdoctoral fellows – call for more equitable pay and improved working conditions.
As part of a UC-wide faculty solidarity rally at noon on Monday, UCLA faculty members lined up next to the Inverted Fountain, cheering on protesters and holding signs that read, “UCLA Faculty Support the Strike” and “Supporting Your Students = Supporting a Living Wage.” Entertainment union members also held signs reading, “Unions Support Unions!”
The UC has proposed that UAW and UC enter mediation with a neutral party to resolve their disagreements. As of Sunday, student and academic researchers have reached tentative agreements with the UC on some articles such as appointment length and promotion eligibility.
Faculty members striking said they are refusing to take on the work of academic workers to show how important the workers’ contributions are.
Though the strike has some adverse impacts – such as undergraduate students receiving less individual instruction and research becoming increasingly difficult – it is important for faculty to support academic workers by not doing that work, said Abby Kavner, a professor of mineral physics.
Grace Hong, a professor of Asian American studies and gender studies, said faculty members have organized email lists and blogs and have donated to strike funds in support of the union.
Those who have been at the protests for several days added that they believe the number of faculty members picketing will only increase.
“Are we, at some point, going to also have to withhold our labor to force the University to come to a just and fair settlement with the workers?” said Peter James Hudson, an associate professor of African American studies and history.
Members of various entertainment unions around Los Angeles also protested in support of academic workers at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and the Herb Alpert School of Music.
Leslie Simmons, a field representative and political coordinator for The Animation Guild who helped organize the event, said it is important for entertainment union members to support students because these academic workers are the future members of unions like hers. She added that she believes the labor movement is about solidarity and supporting anyone – regardless of whether or not they are unionized – who is fighting to have a voice in the workplace.
Linda Rapka, who attended the protest and is director of communications for American Federation of Musicians Local 47 – which represents professional musicians – said support from non-UC organizations may help put more pressure on the UC.
“Outside agitation, really, is sometimes necessary because sometimes you just can’t do it alone,” Rapka said. “Being called out by something bigger than our small insular space – that puts immense pressure. We’ve seen it time and time again. That’s how it works, and we want to see this work.”
Protesting academic workers thanked faculty and entertainment unions in speeches for coming to support them and said they plan to continue bargaining with the UC until demands are met.
On Tuesday, hundreds of undergraduate students joined by other community members also gathered at a rally at Bruin Plaza, expressing solidarity with the academic workers and chanting, “Whose university? Our university” while holding signs with various messages such as “TA’s Working Conditions(,) Student Learning Conditions.”
Multiple undergraduate students spoke at the rally expressing solidarity with the strikers and criticizing the UC for not meeting their demands. Carl King Jr., the president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, spoke on behalf of the council in support of the unions.
“As the world watches, I’m calling on UCLA and the UC as a whole,” King said at the rally. “Take a step in the right direction, and take care of our academic workers.”
Todd Emmenegger, a member of UAW 2865 and doctoral student, said that despite interruptions to learning, the UC has yet to fully meet UAW’s bargaining demands.
“The University has really shown its priorities by allowing all these classes to be canceled and not budging,” Emmenegger said. “It would rather undergraduates not attend class and not learn than give us just crumbs, essentially.”
He also said he hopes to help inform faculty and students through the strikes and rallies, adding that some emails distributed by the University have misled community members about the strike.
The UAW recently filed a complaint with the California Public Employment Relations Board, alleging that a Nov. 11 University email notifying graduate students in the Herb Alpert School of Music harmed student-employee labor rights and was inaccurate. According to complaint documents, the email claimed there is no protection for striking students who may receive penalties from professors and that graduate student researchers who strike do not have excuses for missed work.
Ethan Kahn, a second-year ecology, behavior and evolution student who attended the undergraduate solidarity rally, said he supports the strikers’ demands, adding that graduate students make vital contributions to students’ academic success.
Kahn said the strikes could help determine the quality of compensation at the UC in the future, adding that he hopes to attend a graduate school where he can receive a fair salary.
“I want to go somewhere where I’m going to be paid fairly, treated well, where I can afford to live near the campus,” he said. “On every level, it’s really important to me that we fight for the University to treat academic workers fairly.”
Entertainment union members, UCLA faculty and undergraduate students all reiterated the importance of standing in solidarity with academic workers.
“Everyone, whether they’re in a union or not, should be rallying to say, ‘You deserve this,’” said Ellen Crawford, national organizing committee chair for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union, or SAG-AFTRA. “United, we can do things that we couldn’t do by ourselves.”