Workers of the UC, unite! Multi-Unit Strike of Grad Students, Post-docs, and Researchers across the University of California system

This post was written by Isabella Trierweiler and Pratik Gandhi. The views presented here are not necessarily representative of the views of the American Astronomical Society or other institutions with whom our authors are affiliated.

Banner showing a protest march of UC grad students, post-docs, and researchers, with many carrying signs. White text over red background above the image reads "UAW academic workers united for a fair workplace, 48000 strong"

Tomorrow, November 14th, will mark the beginning of what is expected to be the largest strike amongst workers in higher education in the US. The strike follows last week’s authorization vote, where out of 36,000 students, researchers, and postdocs at the University of California, 98% were in favor of striking as their academic unions bargain with the UC administration to negotiate fair contracts.

This strike across the UC system is exceptional due to the sheer number of workers that will be on the picket lines. The three unions involved in the strike— UAW 2865 Academic Student Employees Union, UAW 5810 Union of Postdocs and Academic Researchers, and the newly formed UAW-SRU Student Researchers United—have a collective 48,000 members across all ten UC campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Workers from these unions perform the bulk of the teaching and research duties at the UCs, so withholding their labor in the coming week(s) will be profoundly disruptive to campus operations. 

The strike has been called in response to the ongoing unfair labor practices and unlawful conduct of the UC at the bargaining table, which you can read about in detail here. Breaches of conduct on the part of the UC include ignoring requests for information from the union bargaining teams and bypassing the union to institute new policies outside of bargaining. The three unions have repeatedly filed charges with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) against the conduct of the UC, but the union teams have not yet been met with fair bargaining practices. 

While the unfair labor and bargaining practices were the immediate trigger for this strike, it follows several years of growing frustration over the working conditions for UC academic workers. The most prominent issue is a need for higher wages as the cost of living continues to skyrocket across California. 90% of graduate student workers are rent burdened and spend more than 30% of their income on rent, largely in housing markets controlled by the university. Simultanously, UC chancellors and others in the administration continue to receive pay increases, with no mention of similar increases for workers. The list of other demands by workers includes childcare support for those with dependents, increased accessibility and disability accommodations, and removal of the exorbitant additional tuition and fees that are heaped on international students. Making any headway on these issues depends on reinstating fair bargaining practices, which is why the upcoming strike is so crucial.

How can you help?

For people affiliated with the University of California, one of the best ways to support the strike is by showing up to the picket line! Information about picket locations and times for all campuses can be found here.

Even if you are not part of the UC community, there are still plenty of ways to lend your support! One of the most effective ways to do so is by donating to the strike and hardship fund, which will be used to support workers whose wages are docked during the strike. Other ways to support are described here, including petitions to sign and sharing letters of solidarity.

Astrobites will be posting updates as the strike progresses in the coming days/weeks, and you can also follow along with updates from the bargaining process here

Edited by Briley Lewis and Katya Gozman

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