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University of California academic workers on strike say ‘No COLA, no contract!’

By staff

Berkeley, CA – Wednesday, November 23, around 100 people came to support the academic workers’ strike at the University of California, Berkeley. University of California’s 48,000 academic workers have been on a statewide strike that is now heading into its fourth week.

Consisting of academic student employees, graduate student researchers, postdoctoral researchers and employees, associate instructors and teaching assistants, and spanning from San Diego to Davis, academic workers are not backing down to the University of California (UC) system.

They are demanding that the United Auto Workers represent them and bargain for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). “The $54,000, it would be a significant cost-of-living adjustment and it would be an amount that would lift most of us out of rent burden,” said Galen Liang, a graduate student instructor at UCB. The adjustment is a necessity for these workers across California as the cost of living continues to rise and their wages do not. Liang states, “We are living in a private housing market, where rates at other campuses can change so drastically.”

They used UC San Diego’s rent as an example, where the university-owned graduate housing rent goes up 100% every two years. Delena Ngo, an academic worker from Yale, who was there in solidarity with the UC strikes, confirms, “There’s just no housing anywhere, now.” The proposition from the UC system lacked other substantial benefits like childcare services and affordable healthcare, especially for those entering their workforce. “The UC should make sure that we have enough to live and get adequate housing,” states Ngo.

At a pre-bargaining caucus, the UAW union discussed dropping COLA from their bargaining demands with the UC. Academic worker strikes erupted across California, a demonstration of the rank-and-file workers’ frustrations with their union and employer. Conor Jackson, a head steward for UAW Local 2865, responds, “First step is raise everyone’s pay, right now, to a livable wage and also, make sure that we have annual increases that are commensurate with the change in the cost of living over time. So, our current proposal for both units is a 7% general range adjustment each year.”

Sean Malloy, professor at UC Merced, states “Given the cost of inflation, 7% isn't even keeping up with it,” echoing the dissatisfaction the academic workers have with these potential contracts. Leadership in UAW 2865 made promises to incorporate COLA as a demand in two years, but the academic workers have not remained silent as an integral demand is threatened to be discarded. “Just because we are treated so horribly and we were paid so little in the past, literally below poverty wages, doesn’t mean that we should normalize that circumstance and situation and we should demand more,” stated Galen Liang.

The workers know they are the ones to decide their demands, and they are prepared for months-long strikes to hold their leaders responsible. Liang adds, “Only through collective action can we really change the direction of how things are going.”

The workers’ demand living wages (adjusted for inflation), inclusive childcare programs, extensive parental benefits, and affordable healthcare for all academic researchers and workers.

With the growing strikes and demands for living wages, those picketing are hopeful for the futures of unions and workers’ rights. “For the first time in my adult life, I’ve seen a growth of union activity, rather than a shrinkage,” Sean Malloy said, “We’re now seeing both increased membership and militancy, as well.”

As of the week of December 4, the postdoctoral researchers are voting to ratify their contract. The Student Researchers United bargaining team made a new proposal to the UC, which lowers the $54,000 stipend to $43,000. Many academic workers are dissatisfied with the new potential contract; they will continue with the statewide strikes against the UC system until their demands are met.

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