About 48,000 unionized scholars at the University of California’s 10 campuses — which do the majority of teaching and research in the state’s premier higher education system — walked off the job Monday morning, demanding to better wages and benefits.
The system-wide strike includes teaching assistants, postdoctoral fellows, graduate research students, tutors and fellows, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab workers, and it has already caused multiple disruptions in scheduled classes, just a few weeks before the final exams.
Union leaders say the strike, which began on Monday, will be the biggest for any academic institution in history. UCLA workers joined the picket line at 8 a.m., demonstrating with signs, t-shirts and chants at multiple locations on campus, as did groups at UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced.
UC Irvine strikers began demonstrating on campus at 8:30 a.m., while walkouts at some other campuses were scheduled for 9 a.m., including UC Davis and UC San Francisco. The 48,000 workers, represented by four UAW bargaining units, demanded wages of $54,000, a wage increase that would more than double their current average wage of about $24,000 a year.
UC proposed a pay scale increase of 7% in the first year and 3% each year thereafter, but workers said it was not enough.
“We’re overworked and underpaid, and we’re sick of it,” said Jamie Mondello, a 27-year-old UCLA psychology graduate student and member of UAW Local 2865 and Student Researchers. United. “Our proposals bring everyone to a living wage. All in all, we ask only to be treated with dignity. We really keep the UC running.
Mondello said she earns about $37,000 a year as a scholar and plans to add a teaching assistant position next term to help supplement her income. She was on the picket line at UCLA Monday morning, along with hundreds of other scholars, many of whom held signs that read, “UAW on strike. Unfair labor practice.
“Forty-eight thousand men,” they chanted. “We can fight all day.
Lavanya Nott, 30, a third-year graduate student in the geography department and student researcher, said she makes $24,000 a year from her job and about $2,000 a year from her second job as a grader on campus for teaching assistants who don’t speak English as their first language.
“It’s almost impossible to live in Los Angeles or most cities in California,” she said. “A lot of us have a second or third job.”
Nott called his income “poverty-level wages” and said 92% of graduate students are rent-gated, meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on rent. She lives in a one-bedroom apartment provided by UC Housing, with her partner paying $1,500 a month combined. Although she has no children, she knows that parents are really struggling because the childcare subsidies provided by UC are not enough for people to send their children to daycare. children on UC campuses.
“We always think about how little money we have and our financial constraints, and I think that would give us some peace of mind and the freedom to focus on our work and have some dignity,” he said. Nott said. “We just want to be lifted out of poverty.”
Rafael Jaime, president of UAW Local 2865, which represents 19,000 of the 48,000 workers, was out early Monday at UC San Diego with fellow union members on strike, and he said the energy was high .
“We’re going to stay here as long as it takes,” Jaime said. He said the union continues to negotiate “around the clock” and while progress has been made on stronger protections against workplace bullying and abuse, he said both sides remain “still very far apart on many issues that will make UC a more equitable university.
Along with wage increases, workers demand childcare subsidies, improved health care benefits for dependents, public transit passes, reduced tuition for college students international standards and better accessibility for workers with disabilities.
It was not immediately clear how many classes, labs or scheduled academic activities were halted on Monday, but UCLA students reported that some classes were canceled.
Ebony Morris, 21, a fourth-year undergraduate art student, said the focus group meeting for one of her classes had been canceled until the strike was over.
“The teaching assistants make a class,” she said. “It’s a smaller way to get everything you’re supposed to get in class.”
Morris said grading for homework and tests will also most likely be affected by the strike.
“I think UCLA should pay the people who work here,” she said. “If they need to strike, they have to strike. I feel like it’s a human right to be able to pay for your life.
Breanna Reyes, 20, and Vanessa Salgado, 20, are both third-year undergraduate students studying Spanish.
Reyes said one of his classes was canceled indefinitely and another was moved online until the strike ended. Salgado said a few of his classes and discussion groups have been canceled.
“Obviously there is some disruption in ratings and pricing but I think the goal is to cause disruption and make staff aware of the issues that arise so I don’t really mind that,” said Salgado.
Reyes said some students were considering joining the strike in solidarity.
“At big conferences, we don’t get that one-on-one attention and we don’t ask as many questions,” Reyes said. “In our focus groups we get to express ourselves more, ask about homework, get feedback on it and it improves our overall grade, so I think missing out on that will hamper our first term experience.”
Mondello, the UCLA psychology graduate student, said she appreciates that many undergraduates understand that the strike is not an effort to punish them and the professors, but that it is necessary for university workers.
“We are really here because we want to improve the university environment,” Mondello said. “Nobody wants a strike, and we were forced to be in this position just to get fair working conditions and a fair contract.”
She said it was particularly concerning because union leaders have repeatedly accused the university of engaging in illegal bargaining tactics, such as bypassing the bargaining table and bullying tactics, and have filed 23 unfair labor practice complaints with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. In three cases, the council issued complaints.
A group of 33 state lawmakers sent a letter of support to graduate students urging UC President Michael Drake to negotiate in good faith.
“UC is one of the best public university systems and research institutes in the world, in large part due to its ability to attract the most talented scholars from a wide range of backgrounds,” reads the letter. “But the UC system cannot live up to its mission and reputation if its own employees do not feel respected.”
Last November, the university system narrowly avoided a planned strike by about 6,500 professors after reaching a last-minute deal that improved their job security and included raises.
Times editor Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.
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