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Academic workers are demanding better pay, expand paid parental and family leave, free child care, and health coverage for workers' dependents. Photo: MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press

48,000 University of California academic workers go on a historical strike

The largest strike in the history of U.S. higher education. But UC is not the only one, TUGSA received 99% of votes favoring strike asking for fair pay.

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On Monday across the 10 campus system of the University of California, 48,000 graduate teaching and research assistants, readers, tutors, postdoctoral scholars, and academic researchers went on strike, accusing the university of unfair labor practices and “not bargaining in good faith with the union.” 

“Department chairs and faculty will work together to ensure the least amount of disruption to the delivery of instruction and grading, as well as research,” UC Berkeley officials said in an email to students at the university as reported by Politico.

However, strikers want a contract that meets the union demands and addresses the soaring housing costs and inflation that are presenting economic hardship for workers— asking for a minimum salary of $54,000 for all graduate workers and $70,000 a year for postdoctoral workers. Additionally, expand paid parental and family leave, free child care, and health coverage for workers’ dependents. 

“These employees make valuable contributions to the University’s teaching and research mission in both part-time and full-time roles, and we believe our offers of fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, among other proposals, are fair, reasonable, and responsive to the union’s concerns,” said Ryan King, a negotiation spokesperson to Higher ED Dive.

The strike threatens to significantly disrupt operations on 10 campuses, especially with graduate workers responsible for grading and teaching. 

“UC’s low wages force workers to pick between two bad options: pay an egregious amount of money in rent each month and live near campus, or spend hours commuting from a cheaper apartment that still eats up an unsustainable amount of money,” the workers’ coalition, Fair UC Now, said on its website.

But this is not the first time graduate workers’ strike—three years ago UC Santa Cruz graduate workers went on strike without union support and ended up costing dozens of employees their jobs. 

Earlier this year, the Student Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers union voted to end strike after an extended bargaining session with Columbia University, “demanding increased compensation, expanded workplace protections, and access to neutral arbitration in cases of discrimination, harassment, and Title IX.” 

Most recently, Temple University Graduate Students Association (TUGSA), received 99% of votes favoring strike asking for fair pay, manageable workload and timely assignments, healthcare for dependents, longer parental and bereavement leave. If the demands made by the union leadership are not met, a strike can ensue. The Temple News reports that if a strike does occur there will not be disruption in operations of the fall semester and spring semester—including access to classrooms, libraries, and other buildings on campus. 

The strike will halt classes, grading and research, something Provost Gregory Mandel and Ken Kaiser, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer expressed, will not occur. 

Jesús Fernández Cano, a Teaching Assistant and a fourth year Ph.D. in Spanish Department College of Liberal Arts at Temple University voted yes for the strike. He mentions that “each summer it gets harder and harder to go by without any income and Temple admin doesn’t care where I come from [an international student], what work I do, and how my future would look.”

 

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