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November 17, 2022

48,000 Academic Workers on Strike at the University of California

 

Demonstrators picket at UCLA as nearly 50,000 University of California academic workers strike on November 14. Photo: Christina House / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Forty-eight thousand academic workers across all ten campuses of the University of California, including faculty and grad students, went on strike early November 14. The workers, who comprise postdocs, researchers, and teaching assistants across three distinct bargaining units, have said they will remain on strike until UC officials begin bargaining in good faith in regard to their demands. Among these are higher wages, lower rents, free transit, more childcare support, and increased responsiveness to concerns surrounding disability justice. The striking employees have accused the university of engaging in unlawful labor practices, including raising transit prices unilaterally, making changes to the bargaining process without first consulting union representatives, and withholding critical information regarding the makeup of the bargaining unit.

Students and faculty UC Irvine’s art history and visual studies departments have forcefully come out in support of the work stoppage, which has been characterized as the largest such action in the US to date, and which is without peer in size and scope compared to other strikes in the nation this year. Art history faculty and visual studies grad students, in a pair of open letters published in their entirety at Hyperallergic, assert that all students who are tenants of the university are rent-burdened, paying between 30 percent and 70 percent of their income to live in UC housing. They additionally point to the fact that roughly 33 precent of all students in both departments took out loans in order to attend the school, and that about 67 percent were forced to take jobs outside the school while studying in order to make ends meet, with international students denied even this option. As well, they contend that 100 percent of students who are parents are unable to obtain health insurance for their children through the university’s plan.

According to a university spokesperson, “the university has conducted over fifty 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 spokesperson further noted that UC officials feel their “offers of fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, among other proposals, are fair, reasonable, and responsive to the union’s concerns.”

The university has proposed a 7 percent salary increase for new employees, with 3 percent annually thereafter. Speaking with Hyperallergic, Andrea Fraser, a professor and former chair of UCLA’s art department, noted that “the salary increase offer on the table does not even keep up with inflation.”

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