Thousands of UC teaching assistants, academic workers strike


In the largest shutdown of the year, thousands of academic workers at the University of California system went on strike Monday to protest the system’s bargaining practices with unions, which are trying to secure higher wages.

Some 48,000 teaching assistants, postdocs, researchers and graders on the front lines of teaching and research in California’s prestigious public university system are seeking a $54,000 minimum annual salary and increased childcare benefits, saying they don’t earn enough to live in the state. They also accuse The university did not bargain in good faith with their union, the United Auto Workers.

“At every turn, the university tried to act illegally at the negotiating table, and that kept us from reaching a deal,” said Neal Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5810, which represents more than 11,000 UC postdocs and academic researchers. ) Say.

The UC strike is also the largest higher education academic strike in U.S. history, according to the UAW.

The negotiating unit representing UC academic workers said university leadership illegally changed payments and transportation benefits without consulting the union. They also claim that the university refused to provide necessary information about who was in the negotiating unit and otherwise hindered the negotiation process. Negotiations have been going on for more than a year.

University officials deny allegations that their negotiators violated the law during the negotiations. They said they had made a good-faith effort to negotiate a price, as evidenced by some of the preliminary agreements the two sides had reached.

University of California system spokesman Ryan King said school administrators had listened to the union’s priorities, provided a fair response, and showed a “genuine willingness to compromise.”

“Our main objective in these negotiations is to reach multi-year agreements recognising the important and highly valued contributions of these staff to the University’s teaching and research mission, including fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, and supportive and respectful work environment,” King said in a statement.

The strike threatens to disrupt classes, research and grading ahead of final exams at 10 UC system campuses. Students will have to rely entirely on the professor’s grades, teaching, and other one-on-one instruction.

University administrators and unions continued to meet over the weekend into Sunday night, making some progress toward a deal, but union officials said they remained far apart on the core issue of wages.

Days before the strike, some tenured UC professors Say They have the right to cancel classes during the shutdown and stand in solidarity with academic workers.

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The strikes come amid a wave of increased U.S. labor activity, driven by pandemic working conditions and a record labor market giving workers more leverage to negotiate better wages and schedules. This year, workers achieved historic union victories at Amazon, Starbucks and Apple. Minnesota recently faced the largest private-sector strike in the nursing industry in U.S. history.

The UAW requires UC leadership to provide a minimum wage of $54,000 for all graduate students and $70,000 for all postdocs, as well as annual cost-of-living adjustments in contract negotiations. Many graduate students earn as little as $20,000 a year, while postdocs earn at least $55,631. The union is also demanding $2,000 a month in childcare reimbursement for its members, expanded paid parental leave and public transit passes.

“We are trying to make transformative changes to our working conditions, which in turn will affect the quality of research and education,” said union leader Sweeney. “We have issues similar to other workers in this country. We are affected by Starbucks Inspired by other struggles with Amazon, we hope our struggles will inspire others as well.”

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The university system offers raises ranging from 4% to 7% in the first year of a contract, with smaller increases thereafter. Workers rejected the offers, saying they were too low. For example, many teaching assistants earn less than $30,000 a year, according to the university’s proposal.

College negotiators also offer childcare allowances of $2,500 to $4,050 per year and some transportation allowances. Some workers receive $3,300 a year in child care subsidies. Workers said the proposed annual allowance would cover just one month’s worth of childcare. Still, the union says a bigger pay rise is crucial to winning a contract that improves the quality of life of its members.

University leadership insists that “Fair and competitive compensation for all employees is a top priority for UC and is critical to ensuring our outstanding workforce and the quality of services we provide to students and the public,” UC’s managers said in a press release.

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The UC system’s battle over cost-of-living needs has intensified following a wave of unauthorized “wildcat” strikes at UC Santa Cruz that spread to multiple UC campuses in 2021. Workers’ demands for cost-of-living allowances account for soaring house prices in the state. After the strike, UC Santa Cruz agreed to increase housing allowances for teaching assistants.

The union said the vast majority of UC graduate students spend more than a third of their income on rent. For example, teaching assistants at UCLA earn an average of $24,000 a year, the union said. According to, the median annual rent in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area is more than $36,000.

The UC teaching assistant described commuting for hours for affordable housing, donating plasma to make ends meet, and paying rent for more than half of her income.

Jacob Kemner, a doctoral student in environmental studies at UC Riverside, earns about $28,000 a year and donates plasma twice a week for about $200 in additional income.

“I make a living by selling plasma,” Kemner said. “As a result, I’m less productive because I spend 6 to 10 hours commuting to and from the plasma donation center. If I don’t spend time on it, I might do lesson planning and grading.”

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Aya Konisha, a teaching assistant and second-year doctoral student in UCLA’s sociology department, said she couldn’t afford to live near campus and had to take public transportation for an hour to get to school.

“My salary is definitely not enough to make ends meet,” said Konisha, whose rent makes up half of her $2,400 monthly income. “I cook all my food at home. I don’t buy anything expensive at all, and when I have to teach, I often skip meals. UCLA is supposed to be the #1 public university in America…but It’s extremely unfair.”

The United Auto Workers this year filed 28 counts of unfair labor practices against the UC system for failing to bargain in good faith. The state of California is investigating the allegations and has issued two complaints against the UC system.

UC officials have denied the allegations, saying that despite the allegations, the system “remains committed to continuing to work in good faith to reach an agreement with the UAW as soon as possible.”

In August 2021, the UAW, which is making headway in higher education, gained 17,000 student researchers, the union’s biggest win of the year.

Earlier this month, the UAW announced that 97 percent of the more than 36,000 workers who voted in the UC system approved an unfair labor practices strike.

Before the strike, 36 California lawmakers sent a letter to UC President Michael Drake urging him to avoid the strike by “stopping unfair labor practices.”

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