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.
The ongoing strike will reach arguably its most effective stage in the coming week as the UCs enter finals period. As instructors and teaching assistants, student employees are essential for proctoring and grading final exams, projects, and papers.Therefore, having thousands of student employees withholding their labor in the coming week(s) will mean that final grades will not be accessible for most classes, thus significantly increasing pressure on the UC.
Since the strike began on 14th November, multiple departments and UC offices across the various campuses have threatened striking workers with incomplete grades for research credits, loss of paid positions after the strike ends, and deterring worker participation in union activity. Many departments (for example, at UCLA) are also attempting to undermine the effectiveness of workers withholding final grades by hiring strikebreakers; i.e., offering paid positions to undergraduate students to proctor and grade exams in place of graduate student TAs. In addition to the lack of support from the larger UC, many workers are extremely frustrated with the active attempts of strike-breaking coming from the faculty and administration within their own departments.
Many, if not all, of these actions by the UC have been completely unacceptable, since the 48,000 graduate students, post-docs, and academic researchers on strike have the legal right to withhold all instruction- and research-related labor.
Escalation by Workers
Over the past ten or so days, in response to the multiple counts of intimidation and strike-busting described above, the union filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges at a number of campuses, including UC Davis, UC San Diego, and UCLA. You can access the public list of all ULP charges filed here.
Additionally, in response to insufficient bargaining offers by the UC and a lack of support from many departments, workers at all ten UC campuses turned to escalation plans and dug in their heels over the past 1-2 weeks, not only maintaining strong attendance at the picket line but also introducing new strike and disruption tactics.
Workers organized large rallies outside the houses of the UC Berkeley and UC Davis Chancellors, and also occupied their offices with sit-ins. Other significant sit-ins and occupations over the past week occurred at UCLA (Luskin Conference Centre, Wilshire Centre), UC Riverside (UCPath Office), and UC San Francisco (Genentech Hall). Many students even stayed overnight at these locations, leading chants to disrupt campus events well into the evening. UC Berkeley workers, joined by folks from other campuses, also embarked on a massive rally to the UC Office of the President in Oakland, to demonstrate their solidarity and resolve to the University.
Clockwise from left: Sit ins at the UC Irvine’s Chancellor’s office, UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s office, and UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center. Photo Credit: UAW 2865/SRU
Tentative agreements for contracts have been reached for the Post-Docs and Academic Researchers (UAW 5810). The agreements include a 20-30% increase in compensation, 8 week parental leave, and transit access improvements. If ratified, the post-doc contract in particular would set a historic standard for higher education in the US. Both groups will vote on whether to ratify the agreements in the coming week, though they will remain on strike in solidarity with the Student Researchers and Academic Student Employees even if the agreements pass.
Movement towards an agreement has been more difficult for the Student Researchers and Academic Student Employees. Changes in bargaining on the side of the union have included reducing demands in the article regarding access needs for workers and dropping COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) language, though cost of living is still addressed in the proposals for yearly pay increases. The most polarizing move made by the bargaining teams this week was to reduce the base pay proposal from $54K to $43K per year. Late Friday night, the UC proposed what they suggest is a final offer, with an initial base pay of ~$33K, increasing to $41K by October 2024.
Over the next week and beyond, rank-and-file academic workers will continue to have important (and difficult) conversations with the bargaining teams representing them, to ensure that whatever contract is finally agreed upon is a fair and equitable one for all. However, through all of this, the pressure on UC administration will be kept up, and strike escalations will continue at each and every campus.
Excitingly, this coming Monday, there will be a massive march to the California State Capitol in Sacramento organized by workers from UC Davis and supported by others! California legislators will be going back to session for one day, for the first time since the UC strike began, and the plan is to show them just how strong the academic worker movement is. Lots of legislators have signed letters in support, but the hope is to garner even more support from elected officials. The picket will meet at Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Sacramento and then march to the State Capitol building, and all UC workers, professors, undergrads, and community members are invited to join!
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 Huei Sears
Featured image credit: UAW 2865