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Davis, California

Monday, June 10, 2024

UCD Academic Workers Union begins strike on May 28, joining UCLA and UCSC

UAW 4811, covering 5,700 workers at UC Davis, initiates total work stoppage and calls for cancellation of classes, research and discussions


By VINCE BASADA and RIVERS STOUT— campus@theaggie.org  


UAW Local 4811, the union representing academic workers across the nine undergraduate UC campuses, has now initiated strikes at UC Davis and UC Los Angeles, joining colleagues at UC Santa Cruz. Union members on these campuses — including teaching assistants, graduate students, postdocs, researchers, some undergraduates and other academic workers — are asked to stop all work-related duties, from teaching discussions to grading papers and conducting research. 

The strikes, announced on May 23 before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, took effect Tuesday, May 28. UAW 4811 held a rally at the MU Quad late that morning, where approximately 1,000 individuals joined the UAW picket line, marching around campus and through lecture halls for an hour. UAW leadership at UC Davis plans to hold programming and workshops at the MU as the strike continues.

Marchers walked through the MU, toward Wellman and Storer Halls, and then looped around to go through the Teaching and Learning Complex and around Mrak Hall. They carried identical signs that read “UAW On Strike, Unfair Labor Practices,” as well as homemade signage with pro-Palestinian messages and imagery. Chants, initiated by march leaders, included, “There is only one solution! Intifada, revolution,” and “Gary May, how many kids have you killed today?”

“The regents and Office of the President [need to] take leadership to make sure that the situation is de-escalated because this is one university system and it is their job to make sure that it’s functioning well,” Emily Weintraut, a Ph.D. student in the UC Davis Food Science Graduate Group and UAW 4811 Davis Academic Student Employee Unit Chair, said in an interview.

The tensions between UC leadership and UAW 4811 stem from several alleged unfair labor practices (ULPs), with the catalyst being an accusation of failure to prevent an attack on the pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA, where several union members were present, and the subsequent arrests of 200 students and academic workers from May 1 to 2.

Other ULPs include “unilateral changes to standard for employee discipline,” as well as disciplining and calling police on UAW members engaging in peaceful protests for workplace changes which the union says infringe on members’ right to free speech.

At the same time as the UAW march, UCD Popular University for the Liberation of Palestine (PULP) and leaders of the pro-Palestine encampment staged a similar march, recruiting undergraduates. The march followed a similar route through campus, and at one point marched through Shields Library.

Weintraut says that encampment leaders, UAW 4811 and other unions have formed a “community coalition” with aligned ideals. She also asserted that the union maintains a separate list of demands and that it will not negotiate on behalf of protestors.

“This strike is objectively about the ULPs,” Weintraut commented. “It’s about the extreme unsafe work environments that we’re dealing with.”

Also according to Weintraut, the union covers 5,700 workers at Davis. By the group’s own acknowledgment, not all union members have participated in the strike.

The union’s strike authorization vote was held from May 13 to 15 and passed with a supermajority, giving the union’s executive board power to call campuses to strike until June 30. Weintraut did not go into detail on how the board and union leadership choose which campuses would be called to strike, and when. But she did say that union leadership and campuses currently not on strike were making preparations in anticipation of possible expanded work stoppages.

The union previously went on strike in November of 2022 over a pay and benefit dispute resolved that December.

The ULPs have been cited to the California Employment Relations Board (PERB), which handles collective bargaining relating to workers at California public schools, UCs and other civil and public offices throughout the state. On Thursday, May 23, PERB rejected a University of California injunction request which argued that the union’s labor stoppage was illegal. Weintraut called the UC’s actions “illegal,” and says it has resulted in further ULP filings by UAW 4811.

A statement on the union’s expansion released by the University of California on May 23 reads, “[We remain] disappointed that the UAW is engaging in an illegal strike in violation of our contract’s mutually agreed no-strike clauses to advance issues that have no bearing on employment at UC.”

The statement continues, “We are working with campus administrators to minimize disruption as much as possible, but it is inevitable and unfortunate, especially amidst an already stressful quarter and educational experience for students.”

On UC leadership, Weintraut said, “I think sometimes we see the regents, and the folks like Michael Drake in the Office of the President, taking a step back.” 

Weintraut added, “We don’t have separate deals [or] side door things. That’s not within our purview or contract. We negotiate as one union.”


Written by: Vince Basada and Rivers Stout — campus@theaggie.org


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