UC academic workers' strike heads into its fourth week

Amy Niu

The systemwide University of California workers' strike began on November 14, 2022, and is now heading into its fourth week. The strike, which is the largest work stoppage of the year so far, is composed of academic workers represented by United Auto Workers (UAW).

As the name suggests, UAW is known for representing workers in the automobile industry. However, the union has expanded its representation to include academic workers. Three units in particular—UAW 2865, SRU-UAW, and UAW 5810—are engaged in the strike. These represent academic student employees (ASEs), student researchers (SRs), and postdoctoral and academic researchers, respectively.

The strikers' demands can be divided into seven categories: fair compensation, climate and transit, support for working parents, international scholar rights, job security, disability justice and anti-bullying protections.

UC Berkeley strikers.Photo byfairucnow.org

According to tentative agreements reached on December 2, the University of California would provide free public transit passes on all its campuses, a $75 (with $25 employee contribution) pre-tax allowance for transit on campuses where such passes are not available, and a 15% discount on select e-bikes.

Also, ASEs and SRs would have the right to eight weeks of fully paid leave for both birthing and non-birthing parents, serious health conditions, and caring for a sick family member. This is two weeks more paid leave for birthing parents, plus four weeks for non-birthing parents or for medical leave, in comparison to the previous contract.

ASEs and SRs would have an article, rather than a side letter, regarding immigration protections. This would mean that there would be no expiration for protections relating to work authorizations and the on-campus presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

With the implementation of a new contract, UC would be required to put Interim Accommodations in place so that workers receive the necessary accommodations immediately, without a doctor's note. They would also be required to notify workers of their rights of access in appointment letters. Regarding rights for disabled academic workers, UC would need to establish a joint committee to identify workplace best practices.

In the previous contract, there were no protections for abusive behavior that did not meet the definitions of discrimination or harassment. Under the tentative agreement, however, ASEs and SRs would gain such protections. Additionally, they would gain the right to a fair process of filing a grievance for harassment or discrimination. Under the proposed new contract, stronger protections against harassment and discrimination would remain in place even if Title IX policy changes such that protections would normally be weakened.

Perhaps the most salient of the issues covered by the strike is the fight for COLA, a cost-of-living adjustment to stave off rent burden. UAW-represented academic workers are asking for a $54,000 minimum salary for all graduate student workers, $70,000 minimum salary for postdoctoral scholars, 14% salary increase for academic researchers, and annual COLA and experience-based pay increases.

UC Davis strikers as seen from an aerial view.Photo byfairucnow.org

As of December 7, UC has negotiated with UAW on a number of issues. Among these negotiations are an average salary increase of 8% for all postdoctoral scholars following the implementation of a new pay scale on April 1, 2023; annual pay increases each October, culminating in about 7.5% increase the first year and 3.5% increase each year after that; and annual experience-based pay increases of 3.7% for eligible postdoctoral students. For academic researchers, the negotiated compensation is different. They comprise a 4.5% increase the first year after the contract's ratification; a 3.5% increase in the second, third, and fourth years; and a 4% increase in the fifth year.

Additionally, child care has also been negotiated. This is an up to $2500 reimbursement with flexibility as to its use for postdoctoral students, with annual $100 increases in 2024, 2025, and 2026. Postdocs would also have eight weeks of paid family leave. For eligible academic researchers, the negotiations are for eight weeks of paid family leave and increased bereavement leave.

For both postdocs and academic researchers, UC has negotiated a new provision in their contracts to address abusive behavior and provide a pathway toward dispute resolution. Additionally, they are proposing access to a pre-tax program to reimburse the cost of transit and offer discounts for e-bikes. There would also be joint committees to explore further measures on the issue of transit.

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