Thousands of academic employees at the University of California’s 10 campuses, primarily teaching assistants, postdoctoral fellows, and researchers, went on strike Monday demanding higher pay and benefits, citing the sky-high cost of living in California.
The labor protest by the 48,000 UC employees, who are members of the United Auto Workers union, is, according to the union, the largest strike among academic workers in the nation’s history. The union claims the university has engaged in illegal actions during ongoing collective bargaining negotiations.
“UC’s unlawful actions include making unilateral changes to our working conditions without negotiating, refusal to provide necessary information for negotiations, and obstructing the bargaining process,” the union says on its website. “Academic workers have filed more than 25 charges with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) regarding these actions.”
The union’s primary demands include a minimum $54,000 annual salary for graduate workers, a $70,000 salary for postdoctoral fellows, a 14% pay increase for academic researchers, and expanded childcare benefits.
“UC’s failure to support a diverse workforce undermines the quality of research and education,” the union said. “Compensation that doesn’t match the cost of living and inequitable working conditions are pushing scholars out of academia.”
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, the university said it was prepared to “mitigate the impact of any strike activity on our students by ensuring, to the extent possible, continuity of instruction and research.”
“The University of California continues to negotiate in good faith as we do everything possible to mitigate the impacts of any strike actions on our student learning,” the university said in the statement. “The University has conducted over 50 bargaining sessions to understand the complex and unique needs of each of the four bargaining units represented by UAW and worked in good faith to offer a fair, multiyear agreement that recognizes the valuable contributions of our Postdoctoral Scholars, Academic Researchers, Academic Student Employees (teaching assistants/readers/tutors), and Graduate Student Researchers.”
The university said it had reached several agreements with the union prior to the strike vote, including on “respectful work environment and health and safety matters,” and touted its history of negotiating collective bargaining contracts with numerous unions representing the UC system’s employees.
“These agreements are illustrative of the University’s good faith and commitment to collaborating with its labor partners to reach fair agreements that are in the best interests of the University as well as its employees,” the university said. “These agreements were reached without labor unrest and we hope to be able to do the same with the UAW. The University looks forward to continuing negotiations in good faith with the UAW and settling these contracts as quickly as possible so that important learning and vital research at our locations may continue.”