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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Student researchers, postdocs rally against union busting

The march led by Student Researchers United-UAW sheds light on the organization’s ongoing fight for union recognition 


By JENNIFER MA — campus@theaggie.org


On Oct. 28, student researchers and postdocs congregated on the corner of 2nd and A St. and marched to Mrak Hall to demand that the UC recognize Student Researchers United-UAW (SRU-UAW). This push for unionization began in May 2021, with over 12,000 student researchers submitting authorization cards to form the union.

According to those at the rally, the protest is a culmination of frustrations with financial instability, a lack of healthcare, longer work hours and no protection against discrimination and harassment.

The California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) verified the right of all members of SRU-UAW to be recognized, but the UC stated that it is only willing to only recognize approximately 11,000 student researchers. The UC argues that student researchers funded by fellowships and training grants do not share a community of interest with other student researchers. The union refutes that all of the student researchers should enjoy the same rights because the work is the same.

“UC’s position is nothing new,” Aarthi Sekar, a sixth-year in the Integrative Genetics and Genomics Graduate Group, said. “They’ve spent 30-plus years trying to manipulate the law to avoid recognizing as many academic workers as employees as they can get away with.”

PERB clarified that the UC did not have the option to partially recognize SRU-UAW; the only options were to recognize the union in full or provide reasons for denial. This resulted in a complete denial of recognition from the university.

According to Maeve Parasol, a second-year international relations major, the actions of the system regarding workers’ rights are inconsistent with its stated values.

“The UC system says they’re so progressive and tries to be this beacon of a school yet they’re union busting at the same time,” Parasol said.

Veronica Suarez, a doctorate level two student from the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, echoed Parasol’s statement about UC Davis.

“The university is hypocritical,” Suarez said. “They have all these slogans around like ‘You matter,’ ‘We care about you,’ ‘We are inclusive and diverse,’ but it seems to me that not saying anything is already denying that we are here and that we are important.”

Katie Porter, the U.S. Representative from California’s 45th congressional district, authored a letter addressed to UC President Michael Drake asking him to recognize SRU-UAW immediately and in its entirety. This letter was signed by 30 representatives, the majority of California’s congressional delegation, and substantiated that student researchers are a major reason why the UC received $3.7 billion in federal research contracts and grant revenue in 2020.

Ryan King, the associate director of media relations for the UC Office of the President (UCOP), provided a statement for UCOP regarding student researchers and union representation.

“We support our employees’ right to union representation,” the statement reads. “UC is in ongoing discussions with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) regarding the final composition of this new bargaining unit.

According to the statement, the university recognizes that graduate student researchers who are hired to work under the direction of the university should be a part of the new bargaining unit.

“However, there are differences in perspectives between UC and the UAW regarding other individuals included in the petition who are not University employees as defined by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act,” the statement reads. “We hope to resolve this matter in a timely fashion so that good-faith negotiations on the terms and conditions of employment with this new bargaining unit can commence.”

On Nov. 2, student researchers at UC Davis held an election, where they selected strike committee members. These members will decide if a strike is necessary and when it will be held, granted two-thirds of student researchers also authorize it. The actual SRU strike authorization vote began on Nov. 10 and will continue through Nov. 19.

“[Student researchers] are the ones who produce by far the most monetary research value for the university,” Adriana Postema, a first-year Ph.D. student in geology, said. “As a result, it gives us a lot of strike power.”


Written by: Jennifer Ma — campus@theaggie.org



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