Thousands of University of California teaching assistants, academic workers go on strike

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In the largest work stoppage of the year, thousands of University of California workers went on strike Monday to negotiate with their union, which wants to raise their wages.

About 48,000 teaching assistants, postdocs, researchers and graduate students and researchers at the prestigious University of California want a minimum annual salary of $54,000 and increased benefits for raising children, saying they do not earn enough to live in the state. . They also accuse the university of not cooperating with their union, the United Auto Workers.

“Always, the university has wanted to act illegally at the bargaining table, which is preventing us from reaching agreement,” said Neal Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5810, which represents more than 11,000 UC postdocs and academic researchers.

The University of California strike is also the largest strike in higher education in US history, according to the UAW.

Bargaining groups representing UC workers said the university administration has made illegal changes to pay and change benefits without consulting the union. He also said that the university refused to provide necessary information about the members of the group and prevented the discussion. Negotiations have been going on for over a year.

University officials have denied claims that the negotiators broke the law during the negotiations. They said they will try in good faith to reach an agreement as shown by several temporary agreements that the parties have already agreed upon.

Ryan King, a spokesman for UC, said the school administration has listened to the union’s demands, responded fairly and shown a “willingness to compromise.”

“Our main goal in these negotiations is to reach multi-year agreements that recognize the significant and important contributions of these employees to the teaching and research work of the University with fair wages, good health and family benefits, and a supportive and respectful work environment,” King said. he said in his voice.

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The strike threatens to disrupt classes, exams and pre-final exams at 10 UC system campuses. Students must rely solely on professors for grading, tutoring and other individualized instruction.

University officials and the union continued to meet over the weekend and into Sunday evening, making some progress, but union officials said they remained far apart on the key issue of wages.

In the days before the boycott, some UC professors worked he said had the right to cancel classes during the suspension and spoke in solidarity with academic staff.

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The strike comes amid rising unemployment in the United States, due to the pandemic and an overheated labor market that has left workers with more room to negotiate for better wages and schedules. Workers have hit record highs at Amazon, Starbucks and Apple this year. Minnesota recently experienced one of the largest bankruptcy filings in U.S. history.

The United Auto Workers is asking the UC administration for a minimum wage of $54,000 for all graduate students and a minimum wage of $70,000 for all postdocs, as well as an annual change in the bargaining chip. Most graduate students earn less than $20,000 a year, and postdocs earn as little as $55,631. The union has also asked for $2,000 a month in child care reimbursements, increased paid parental leave and public licenses for its members.

“We are trying to make changes in our operations that will affect the quality of research and education,” said Sweeney, the leader of the alliance. “The issues we face are similar to the workers in this country. We were inspired by other challenges at Starbucks and Amazon, and we hope that our struggle will inspire others as well. “

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The university system has offered increases ranging from 4 percent to 7 percent in the first year of the contract, with smaller increases. The workers rejected the offer, saying it was too little. For example, most teaching assistants earn less than $30,000 per year at the discretion of the university.

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University negotiators have also offered stipends of between $2,500 and $4,050 per year and other travel expenses. Some workers earn up to $3,300 a year. The workers say that the annual allowance will not be enough for one month of child care. However, the union said, the increase in wages is very important to win contracts that support the lives of their members.

The university administration states that “providing fair and competitive wages to all employees is a priority at UC and is critical to ensuring the well-being of our employees and the success of our services to students and the public,” UC officials said. in a press release.

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The increase in violent crime on the UC system follows an unprovoked assault that began at UC Santa Cruz and spread to several UC campuses in 2021. due to the high cost of housing in the state. Following the protests, UC Santa Cruz agreed to increase funding for faculty.

The union says many UC graduate students spend more than a third of their income on loans. For example, teaching assistants at UCLA earn about $24,000 a year, the organization said. The median rent in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area is more than $36,000 a year, according to Realtor.com.

UC teaching assistants described walking for hours to find affordable housing, donating blood to make ends meet and paying more than half the rent.

Jacob Kemner, a doctoral student in environmental studies at UC Riverside, makes about $28,000 a year and donates plasma twice a week for about $200 in extra income.

“I’m making money selling plasma,” Kemner said. “I can’t do my job because of this because I spend six to 10 hours going to and from the plasma donation center. If I didn’t spend time on that, I would be preparing lessons and doing grades.”

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Aya Konisha, a teaching assistant and second-year PhD student in UCLA’s sociology department, said she can’t afford to live close to campus and has to travel an hour on public transportation to get to school.

“My salary is not enough to make ends meet,” said Konisha, whose rent accounts for half of her monthly income of $2,400. “I make all my food at home. I don’t buy anything expensive and I usually skip meals when I have to train. UCLA is supposed to be the first university in the United States… but it is very unequal.

The United Auto Workers has filed 28 lawsuits against the UC system this year for failing to act in good faith. The state of California is investigating the allegations, and has filed two complaints against the UC system.

UC officials denied the allegations, and said despite the allegations, the system “remains committed to continuing their efforts to reach an agreement with the UAW as quickly as possible.”

In August 2021, the UAW, which has joined higher education, gained 17,000 student workers, in the largest union victory of that year.

Earlier this month, the UAW announced that 97 percent of the more than 36,000 workers polled for UC practices agreed that the strike was unfair.

Before that, 36 California lawmakers sent letters to UC President Michael Drake, urging him to stop the strike by “stopping unfair labor practices.”

About 53,000 UPS workers based in California, part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, will be able to avoid going to UC campuses during the strike, a move approved by two branches of the Teamsters union.



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