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Monday, March 4, 2024

‘One, two, three, four, rent burden no more’: UC academic workers rally for affordable housing

The rally coincided with 2022 contract bargaining for UAW 2865, UAW 5810 and SRU-UAW

 

By ISABELLA KRZESNIAK campus@theaggie.org

 

On March 3, members of United Auto Workers (UAW) 5810, the union that represents postdoctoral and academic researchers, UAW 2865, representing teaching assistants, graduate student instructors, tutors and readers and Student Researchers United (SRU-UAW) held a rally to bring awareness to rent burden in Davis. Members of the unions marched from 1st and A Street to Mrak Hall. The rally was one of several that have been taking place across the nine UC campuses and coincided with 2022 contract bargaining for the UC system, which occurs from March to April.

“We have been having housing actions at [all UC schools] as we are entering bargaining to really prioritize housing in this next contract,” said Frangy Pozo, a part-time organizer for UAW 2865.

According to a press release from UAW 2865, 70% of postdoctorates and 90% of academic student employees are rent burdened, which is defined as having to use more than 30% of one’s income on housing. Among the unions’ demands is that the UC put an end to rent burden for all academic student employees.

“The demand is to eliminate rent burden so that none of us as workers need to be prioritizing rent over food, childcare or transportation,” Pozo said.

UAW 5810, UAW 2865 and SRU-UAW collectively represent over 48,000 academic workers. SRU-UAW, which represents more than 17,000 individuals, was recently recognized as a union in December 2021.

“We’re really excited at this stage because we’re at this historic moment,” Pozo said. “We have 48,000 members because of the postdocs, tutors, TAs, readers, student researchers and academic researchers.”

According to a 2022 apartment vacancy survey published by UC Davis, the City of Davis has a vacancy rate of 1.4%.

“That type of scarcity drives up rent prices, which makes it hard for people to live comfortably in Davis,” said Gwen Chodur, a union member and PhD student for nutritional biology. “If you move out of the city in search of cheaper housing, you’re adding on transit costs, and all those things that add up over time.”

On the same day of the rally, the California Supreme Court upheld a 2021 ruling that caps enrollment at UC Berkeley. The ruling favors a group of Berkeley residents who filed a lawsuit pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), to prevent the dislocation of existing city residents. In effect, this ruling can hamper housing development, and some fear that residents in places like Davis could file suit under the same act, according to Chodur.

“[The ruling] is going to have trickle-down effects,” Chodur said. “We have a very litigious group of homeowners in Berkeley, and it’s a pretty reasonable expectation on our part that we might expect something similar from neighbors in other places.”

The unions also demand that housing be guaranteed for workers from marginalized groups. According to a press release from UAW 2865, rent burden affects people who are undocumented, LGBTQ+, Latino and Black disproportionately.

Pozo believes that the UC Regents’ recent decision to increase chancellor salaries is misguided in light of the prevalence of rent burden. 

“We think that is wrong,” Pozo said. “These chancellors can 100% choose to redirect funds, but they chose not to.”

According to the UC’s 2021 Accountability report, the gap between worker salaries and increasing costs of living in the state is a significant issue that deters student recruitment.

“I hope that [the rally] humanizes these struggles and these stories,” Chodur said. “This draws attention to how difficult this is. We need to communicate the urgency of the housing crisis.”

 

Written by: Isabella Krzesniak — campus@theaggie.org

 

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