Nearly 48K University of California academic workers go on strike

Nearly 48K University of California academic workers go on strike

Nearly 48,000 unionized academic workers for the University of California school system walked off the job on Monday at campuses across the state.

The teaching assistants, researchers, postdoctoral students, tutors and graders are seeking pay increases and better benefits, including child care subsidies as the cost of living continues to rise in cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and Berkeley.

The strike comes just weeks ahead of final exams in December, threatening to disrupt instruction. 

Some professors were already telling students that classes were on hold until further notice.

Protesters march outside the University of California, Los Angeles campus on Nov. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes / AP Newsroom)

The University of California has offered a salary increase of 5% in the first year and 3% after that, saying in a statement that it had entered negotiations with a genuine willingness to compromise and that “many tentative agreements” on issues had been reached.

“UC’s primary goal in these negotiations is multiyear agreements that recognize these employees’ important and highly valued contributions to UC’s teaching and research mission with fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits and a supportive and respectful work environment,” it said.

Workers, however, say that’s not adequate.

University of California strike

Protesters march outside the University of California, Los Angeles campus on Nov. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes / AP Newsroom)

They are seeking minimum annual base salaries of $54,000.

Organizers from the United Auto Workers (UAW), which represents the employees involved, say the strike is the largest to occur at the University of California and could be the largest academic strike in higher education in U.S. history.

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UAW also said there is no end date set for the work stoppage.

“The strike will end when UC ends its unfair labor practices and starts bargaining in good faith,” Neal Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5810, told the Associated Press.

UCLA protest

Protesters march outside the University of California, Los Angeles campus on Nov. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes / AP Newsroom)

He said the current average pay is about $24,000 annually for student employees.

More than 30 state lawmakers sent a letter to University of California President Michael Drake in support of the student employees.

“The UC is one of the top public university systems and research institutions in the world, in no small part because of its ability to attract the most talented scholars from a wide array of backgrounds,” the lawmakers said. “But the UC system cannot live up to its mission and reputation if its own employees do not feel respected.”

In October, the University of California said it had ratified a new four-year contract with its more than 13,000 clerical employees, library assistants, child care teachers and other administrative staff.

The school system told FOX Business Digital in an emailed statement on Tuesday that the University of California continues to negotiate in good faith, as well as mitigate the impact of any strike. 

UCLA

Protesters march outside the University of California, Los Angeles campus on Nov. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes / AP Newsroom)

“Negotiations continued throughout the weekend, and the current University proposal would set the standard for graduate academic employee support among public research universities. It is important to note that our graduate student employees work strictly on a part-time basis while earning their graduate or doctoral degree, and that compensation is just one of the many ways in which they are supported as students during their time with the [University of California],” it said. 

The University of California said that, at this time, it believes the best way to an agreement is with the assistance of a neutral, private third-party mediator and that it has proposed enlisting such a mediator to achieve a compromise. It said it continues to encourage the union’s partnership in pursuing mediation and that it has conducted more than 50 bargaining sessions over the past holiday weekend and worked to offer a fair, multiyear agreement. 

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“Under our proposals, wages for UC academic employees would be among the top of the pay scale among the top public research universities, and more comparable to private universities such as Harvard, MIT and USC,” it said. “The University recognizes the valuable contributions of our postdoctoral scholars, academic researchers, part-time academic student employees (teaching assistants/readers/tutors) and part-time graduate student researchers. These employees make meaningful contributions to the University’s teaching and research mission in both part-time and full-time roles, and we believe our offers of fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, among other proposals, are fair, reasonable and responsive to the union’s concerns.”

“We remain hopeful that with mediation and by maintaining a spirit of flexibility and compromise we can achieve a fair agreement with the UAW,” the University of California concluded. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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