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Davis, California

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Negotiations continue after first week of UC worker strike

Progress was made in negotiations between UC officials and UAW, but current UC offers regarding pay increases still do not meet the union’s demands

By KAYA DO-KHANH — campus@theaggie.org

The largest strike in higher education history, which began on Nov. 14, has continued into its second week. Academic workers have set up picket lines on Russell Boulevard and College Park/Howard Way, as well as on Hutchison Drive and La Rue Road from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. every day of the work week since the strike began. 

In addition to the picket lines, other protest activities have been planned and enacted throughout the duration of the strike, including rallies, speakers and more. On the first day of the strike, there was a midday rally in front of Mrak Hall, where Chancellor Gary May’s office is located. The rally featured speakers from the Teamsters Local 2010, which represents the University of California’s (UC) skilled trades workers. There was also a sit-in inside the hall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 18. 

The picketers have been fed daily by a self-organized group of academic strikers and undergraduate students, according to a recent press release, with the “strike kitchen” serving food purchased with donations and cooked on a camp stove, as well as baked goods, fruit and vegetables that community members have dropped off. 

The unions, United Auto Workers (UAW) 2865, Student Researchers United (SRU-UAW) and UAW 5810 are demanding an annual pay increase from $24,000 to a minimum of $54,000. Students on the picket lines at UC Davis, such as fourth-year physics Ph.D. candidate Samantha Abbott, said that their wages do not support the growing cost of living, as most academic workers are spending 50% to 60% of their monthly paycheck on rent.

“I hope to see a fair contract,” Abbott said. “We have been underpaid for a long time. I hope to be able to pay less than 30% of my paycheck to rent […] I want to be able to come home everyday and feel like the work that I am doing is actually valued and that I don’t have to spend my time and energy outside of school trying to keep my life in order because I have the proper resources from the school that controls almost every aspect of my life. I want them to empower me to be able to do the things that they ask of me.” 

Since the strike began, a number of classes have been canceled or moved online, disrupting undergraduate education. There have been disruptions to the Unitrans Memorial Union bus terminal, due to the picket line on Russell Boulevard and College Park/Howard Way, making it difficult for some students to arrive to class on time. However, there has still been undergraduate support on the picket lines, according to Abbott. 

“I had some anxiety, to be honest, that some students would think that I was betraying them,” Abbott said. “But they were all extremely supportive. They wanted to see me and all of the other TAs be actually paid for what we do.” 

On Nov. 18, ASUCD released a letter acknowledging the impact that strike action has had on undergraduate education and asking administrators to make emergency changes to typical policy as a result.

The statement calls upon the Executive Council of Academic Senate, which, according to the letter, is charged with “[taking] measures to cope with [emerging problems] before they become urgent,” to convene an emergency session in order to consider an extension of the Pass/No Pass grading option and a recommendation to faculty to utilize virtual exams and waive attendance-based components of final grades for the remainder of the quarter.

“The largest work stoppage at any academic institution in history and the impact thereof on the undergraduate student body surely constitutes an urgent circumstance,” the letter reads.

On Nov. 15, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs in the UC Office of President Michael Brown sent a letter to inform faculty of the university’s latest updates on negotiations and information on significant areas of disagreement. 

“Under our current proposals, our academic student employees would be among the highest compensated among public universities in the Association of American Universities (AAU), with compensation similar to what top private institutions offer,” the letter from Brown reads. 

Brown said that the university has reached tentative agreements with the UAW on areas such as work environment and health and safety matters, but there are still areas that separate them from the union’s proposal. Areas of separation include the proposal to tie compensation directly to local housing costs and waiving out-of-state tuition for international and other non-resident graduate students. 

“Tying compensation directly to housing costs […] could have overwhelming financial impacts on the University,” the letter from Brown reads. “One review of the Union’s proposal predicts an annual unfunded obligation of at least several hundred million dollars, with inflationary pressure and no cap.”

On Nov. 17, the union representing academic workers said there was progress made in negotiations with UC officials on issues of parking and transit, job security provisions and paid time off, but the UC’s slight increase in terms of compensation does not meet their demands, according to an article from the Los Angeles Times

The new offer indicates a raise of around $132 per month for student researchers, which would result in the average worker paying 56% of their income on rent. 

“We still think this is far from sufficient,” President of UAW 2865 Rafael Jaime said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. 

On Nov. 28 at 11:31 p.m., the University of California (UC) and UAW 5810, the union representing two of the striking units, academic researchers and postdoctoral students, reached a tentative agreement on contracts for the two parties. 

However, the members of UAW have decided to continue to strike in solidarity until the two remaining units, academic student employees and student researchers, come to an agreement with the UC.

The UC proposed that the university and unions engage with a third-party mediator as they move forward in negotiations, according to Brown, and in the evening of Dec. 9, the UC Office of the President sent out a letter officially announcing that after “multiple requests […] the UAW has accepted our invitation to join us in mediation with a neutral third party.”

The most recent offer to academic student employees and graduate student researchers as of Dec. 9, according to the letter, includes salary increases totaling 12.5% to 48.4% over three years, and also addresses child care reimbursements, transit subsidies and health care premiums. 

Mediation is confidential, according to the letter, and during the process, neither party will be allowed to speak publicly about the negotiations. The letter went on to say that a timeline for mediation will be decided on soon. Until then, the strike of 48,000 UC academic workers persists. 


Written by: Kaya Do-Khanh — campus@theaggie.org


This is a developing story, check back for updates. This article was last updated on Dec. 10 at 11:38 p.m.