48,000 academic workers on strike in California
San José, CA – Thousands of University of California students and workers are currently on strike across the state. In late October, the United Auto Workers union which represents 48,000 academic workers, called a strike authorization vote. In a historic vote, 98% of the 36,558 people who participated voted yes to strike. This is the largest academic workers’ strike in the history of the country.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) represents four types of academic workers at UC: postdocs, academic researchers, student employees and student researchers, each represented by their own bargaining unit. Workers are fighting for higher pay, childcare benefits, subsidies for transportation, reimbursements for international student fees, greater job security, and accommodations for students and workers with disabilities. Since bargaining began last April, the union has filed over 26 unfair labor practices against UC, which include making changes to contracts without negotiations and withholding necessary information at the bargaining table.
On Monday, November 14, the first day of the statewide strike, over 250 workers and students picketed outside UCSF Mission Bay in San Francisco. The crowd stayed strong from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. chanting “48,000 workers strong! We can fight all day long!” and “Who’s got the power? We got the power! What kind of power? Union power!”
Anagh Sinha Ravi, a graduate student worker, linked the need for higher pay to skyrocketing rents in San Francisco. About 92% of academic workers spend over one-third of their salary on rent, with 40% of these workers spending over half of their salary on rent. “Being rent-burdened has had a big effect on my ability to perform my work because I'm constantly worrying about being able to find an apartment or being able to make ends meet when I do find an apartment,” says Ravi. He also stressed the importance of showing solidarity with international students, who have to pay an additional $15,000 in tuition on top of their visa fees. The union is demanding a $54,000 minimum salary for graduate workers. Currently the average academic worker’s salary is only $24,000.
Transportation costs also burden workers, many of whom cannot afford to rent near the UC and have to spend hundreds of dollars a month on transit passes, parking fees and gas. To address this, the union is demanding free public transit passes, subsidies for bikes and e-bikes, and cash incentives for students to commute more sustainably. Students claim this will also help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Just a day before the strike, the union won an anti-bullying protection that would establish real recourse for workers. “The only reason the UC even took this seriously was because we called a strike authorization vote to make them take it seriously,” says Dr. Evan Holloway, a postdoctoral fellow and member of the bargaining team in UAW 5810, which represents postdocs. This victory was a direct result of mass action by UC workers.
Academic workers are rising up. They are not afraid to withhold their labor because they know that the UC cannot exist without it. They are not afraid because they know what is possible through mass action. In the words of graduate researcher Maura McDonagh, “This is what it takes. We know that together we have the power to get the UC to change.”