Over the last few weeks, close to 48,000 University of California (UC) academic workers, 10,000 of whom are from UC Berkeley, are striking for higher wages and better benefits. The striking workers, the majority of whom are teacher’s assistants, academic researchers, or post-doctoral researchers, are represented by the United Auto Workers Union (UAW). Academic workers make up a quarter of the members of the UAW, which in total has nearly 400,000 members.
“Our union stands with our members in California as they fight for fairness and an equitable collective bargaining agreement,” said UAW President Ray Curry in a public statement regarding the UC strikes. “This strike is the largest in the nation, the biggest of the year, and the largest at any academic institution in history.”
Some of the demands from the strike, in addition to higher salaries, include benefits such as subsidies for childcare, greater accessibility for disabled workers, and healthcare for family members.
“The main reason to strike is to show the university that we are the ones that do the work,” said Arlyn Moreno Luna, a doctoral candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Education. “We are the ones that teach. We are the ones that do the research. So if you don’t pay us a fair wage, you lose all of this.”
Over the past four years in order to help fund her education, gain experience, and pay her rent, Moreno Luna has taken multiple positions teaching and assisting in research.
Because undergraduate classes are often taught or supported by graduate students, the majority of classes are impacted until the strike is resolved.
“I think the UC bargaining team has been very disrespectful, and not showing good faith trying to bargain,” Moreno Luna added. “On Tuesday of the first week, they were supposed to meet to bargain, and they just canceled the meeting. They didn’t even say ‘Let’s reschedule.’”
Moreno Luna added that the UC bargaining team showed further disrespect by arriving 40 minutes late to the following meeting, which had already been delayed an hour.
Academic workers are striking in several other places across the United States as well. At The New School in New York City, teachers and other staff have effectively shut down most of the campus by striking and will likely continue to do so for the rest of the semester. New School workers are also unionized under the UAW.
“They’re pushing to have the new contract reflect and account for inflation from the last five years. The problem is the people who are negotiating with the union; they are the people taking all the money,” said Helena Lerner, Berkeley High School graduate, and current student at The New School. According to Lerner, support for the strike from students is relatively high. “There’s a known idea that we’re all collectively here to support the teachers,” she said.
As of Thursday, December 1, UC Berkeley Academic Workers began to occupy California Hall and are not planning on leaving until the UC Berkeley Chancellor commits to a contract the workers consider fair, according to the UC Student Workers Union. California Hall, which is located on the UC Berkeley campus, houses the Chancellor’s Office.
“I want the university to stop messing around and negotiate in good faith so our kids can get on with their education,” shared Chrissy Meuris, a parent of two BHS graduates and current UC students.
Morena Luna also said that the experience has built community between the UC workers, students, and the Berkeley community. She says that many local Berkeley businesses, such as Berkeley Espresso, have brought food, coffee, and verbal support to the picket lines. UC Berkeley undergraduate students have expressed support for the protesters by picketing with them and sharing their food.
“So far it’s been very peaceful; it sometimes feels like a party because we can feel like we’re in this all together,” shared an international graduate student who wishes to remain anonymous.
On November 29, UC officials announced a tentative agreement in which increased wages and benefits would be given to post-doctoral scholars and academic researchers. But as negotiations for significant compromises continue to be made for academic student employees and graduate student researchers, strikes will likely continue throughout the fall semester, possibly persisting into the spring.