This article is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2022 academic workers’ strike. Please visit Fair UC Now for more details about the strike.
The multi-unit UAW strike, which started last Monday, has lasted a week across 10 UC campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Tens of thousands of academic workers shut down their classrooms and research labs, forming picket lines and marching through the campus, in demand of fair contracts. This is the largest strike at any academic institution in history, and the first time ever that postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers have gone on strike.
The strike has received widespread support from undergraduate students, faculty, and college communities. The California Federation of Labor, which represents more than 2.1 million workers statewide, expressed support for the strike as well.
“The strike in UC today demonstrates the general exploitation of academic workers around the world, which wasn’t widely discussed in mainstream media,” Earl Warren College senior Zerui Pan, who signed up for the picket lines and attended the speech series, said.
“The strike voices out the immediate need to further reform our current education system and that’s why I chose to respect the picket line,” Pan said.
Second-year doctorate student Jasmine Browne, a strike captain at the John Muir College picket line, stated, “I’ve seen a lot of support from undergraduate students, which honestly surprised me. There were students just coming up and asking questions like what was going on with the strike. The responses I’ve seen are pretty supportive.”
According to Browne, some undergraduate students even brought snacks and water to the strikers at the picket line.
Faculty from various departments have stated their support for the strike, with some professors even canceling classes and joining strikers at the picket lines
Nevertheless, not all departments have displayed positive attitudes. The UCSD Guardian learned that some academic workers faced pressure from their departments or faculties against striking.
In the email sent out by Jerry Yang, the Vice Chair for Graduate Education, the chemistry department emphasized that “all courses are currently planned to continue as originally scheduled, and the expectations for attendance, participation … has not changed,” even though the department acknowledged the choices that every graduate student has in participating in the strike or not, and that “[students] are legally protected from harassment or retaliation for [their] choices in this matter.”
According to fourth-year doctorate chemistry student Conor Herin, an Unfair Labor Practice charge was filed in the department as “Union Intimidation,” as the university was unlawfully deterring and discouraging union activity. Three additional ULP charges against UC were filed, including unlawful interference in the bargaining process and direct surveying of bargaining-unit members.
“There are a lot of half-measures taken,” sixth-year doctorate student Maximilian Bernbeck said. “A lot of verbals show support in standing by the students, but in actual speaking they’re entirely opposite. They can say in the same breath that ‘we support you’ and ‘don’t do this or we’ll take away your academic success.”
Numerous graduate students in the chemistry department have still carried out their Teaching Assistant duties and held discussion sessions as usual during the strike period.
However, the strike has also fielded some complaints.
An anonymous Roger Revelle College senior shared her unpleasant experience on the first day of the strike with The Guardian. When she walked across the Peterson Loop to get to her class, she was yelled at by some strikers near the Ridge Walk Academic Complex that “you don’t have to go to classes but we need to eat.”
Despite the student being late for class, one striker came up, stopped her, and asked her to sign the petition, telling her, “it’s OK. You can tell your professor we stopped you.”
“I didn’t know we couldn’t cross the picket line that time,” the student said. “I was confused. I didn’t stop them from striking but why did they yell at me and stop me from going to class?”
As of the time of this article, UAW and UC haven’t reached an agreement on the wage adjustment issue. For the economic proposals, UC first offered a $132/month increase in student researchers’ wages, which would still leave entry-level SRs paying an average of 56% of their income on rent. UAW called this an “insulting contract.” Later, UC agreed to give an additional 4.5% raises to Academic Researchers; however, this still does not match the rate of inflation.
Despite the sluggishness of wage negotiations, progress has been made. According to the latest bargaining update, UAW and UC have agreed upon important issues such as parking and transit, appointment notification, paid time off, and health benefits improvements for postdocs. As the UC ULP Strike Newsletter commented, “these proposals reflect Academic Workers’ priorities to receive more transit benefits and better job security.”
The Guardian reached out to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs Team and sociology faculty for an official response and expert comment, respectively, but none of them gave a statement.
Photo by Kathleen Shiroma for the UCSD Guardian.
Data Visualizations by Ifunanya Okoroma for the UCSD Guardian