UC academic workers reach agreement to end strike

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a lawyer with degrees from two UC campuses, negotiated the deal at Sacramento City Hall this week, weaving between union and university officials. He said the union “works hard to ensure that the university’s graduate students receive a subsistence wage in every campus community” and that President Drake “sets an example for other universities across the country.”

Union activity has surged across the country this year as workers leverage bargaining power in a tight labor market involving big retail companies like Starbucks and Amazon as well as private college campuses. A standoff between railroads and unionized workers threatened holiday freight deliveries this month until Congress and President Joe Biden imposed a labor deal by invoking constitutional powers unused in decades.

Organized labor membership has been declining for generations, with only about 10 percent of American workers having union representation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But this year’s polls show that general support for organized labor is at its highest level since the mid-1960s, with about 70 percent of Americans saying yes.

The Labor leader said the UC strike reflected both a generational milestone and resistance to an economy increasingly dependent on brainwork.

“This demonstrates a new level of excitement and empowerment, especially among younger workers who have not traditionally been considered union members,” Lorena Gonzalez, the chief official of the California Federation of Labor, said in an interview this month. She notes the participation of “people entering the professional world, and people who bring those experiences into science, technology or academia.”

“We saw a few years ago during our internship,” she added. Gonzalez is a former Democratic state legislator who authored a bill that would allow state lawmakers to unionize. “That ‘you’re lucky to be here’ idea is being pushed aside. Work is work. You can’t glorify unfair compensation just by suggesting that’s the way it’s always been.”

UC staff have said their pay is well below what they need to make ends meet in California, especially given inflationary pressures and a persistent housing shortage. Mostly graduate students, they accuse the university’s business model of having gone from exploitative to untenable.

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