More than 40,000 unionized student workers within the University of California system, including UC Irvine, went on strike Monday, Nov. 15, protesting the UC system’s inability to meet the demands of union proposals. 

The picket line of 48,000 student workers consisting of teaching assistants, researchers, graduate students and other campus employees across California are demanding the Chancellor’s office reconsider its position on several aspects impacting the well-being of UC employees, including higher wages, child care reimbursement increases and guaranteed job security. 

Jackie Ku is a UC Irvine graduate student and a UAW2865 union representative. Speaking to Irvine Weekly via phone, Ku said Monday’s strike was a last resort response to lengthy contract negotiations with the UC which ultimately failed. 

“The strike was planned once our contracts expired — that really has been the precondition — we never planned to get to this point, even hoping to avoid this point,” he said. “But really the reason we’re on strike now is because UC has acted unlawfully at the negotiation table by withholding vital information that we need to have a substantial negotiation process by making unilateral changes to the workplace.”

Ku emphasized that his union was “eager to bargain” but that the picket line at UC Irvine will stand until then. 

As of Thursday, Nov. 17, there was no timetable on a resolution for negotiations, although Ku said he had been informed that the UC was meeting with individual groups.  

“We’re gonna go as long as it takes until the UC comes to the table with fair terms — terms that actually address the problems, rather than the flowery language that offers no substantial changes,” he said. “I’ve heard that the UC is bargaining with different unions separately. But as for UAW2865, we have no idea when we are going to go to the table.” 

In terms of demands, several unions – UAW2865, UAW5810 and SRU-UAW, are asking the UC for a base salary of $54,000 for graduate workers and $70,000 postdoctoral students, with 14% increases for academic researchers. Unions are also asking the Chancellor’s Office to consider, “annual cost of living adjustments,” and “experienced-based increases,” according to UAW bargaining literature.

In its counter proposal to unions, the UC has offered a postdoctoral minimum salary of $59,362 with a 3% annual increase, with higher benefit costs. Student researchers would receive a 6%, with 3% annual raises. Academic student employees would get a 7% raise, with an annual increase of 3%. 

Another issue highlighted by the strike is the aspect of rent burden which Ku said impacts approximately 70% of unionized workers.  

“What the UC has offered at the table doesn’t even begin to match inflation, let alone rent burden and cost of living,” he said.  

In a statement to Irvine Weekly, UC Irvine spokesman Tom Vasich said the university was optimistic to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

“Student employees, graduate student researchers, postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers are valuable members of the UCI community. We look forward to reaching an agreement. Our students’ success remains our highest priority, and we are committed to working towards that end.”

UC Irvine Professor Dr. Kathleen Treseder has been vocal in her support for student workers. In a phone call with Irvine Weekly on Friday, Nov. 18, Treseder, who is not currently teaching lecture courses this semester, said the clear resolution to this matter is for the UC to meet union demands. Treseder also said she has been marching with the students each day of the strike.

“I’m fully in support of the students, their compensation has essentially been decreasing every year, because it has not increased to match inflation. Many of them have food insecurity, some of them are homeless – in most of the campuses they have to spend more than half of their salary on housing, and that’s even campus housing,” Treseder said. “They should definitely have a much stronger raise than what the UC is offering. 

As the strike moves into its first week, classes are certainly being impacted, according to Treseder, who explained that some professors rely on teaching assistance to help grade the academic papers and tests of more than 400 students. 

“My colleagues who don’t have TAs — some of them might have as many as 400 students or more in their classes. It’s just impossible to keep up with the grading. I think some of the undergrads are not going to classes in solidarity,” she said. 

UC Irvine is set to begin finals on Dec. 5, however Treseder said she is unsure what route professors would take if the strike is on-going considering the lack of assistive resources for professors.  

“Faculty have a lot of flexibility on how they instruct the classes so I think they’ll each be making their own decisions — some may cancel, so may change the finals to a format that’s easier to grade,” she said. “The workers want to get back to work. The students, and the postdocs and the other students that are striking, work really hard — they do the majority of the work at the university, so they should be paid fairly.” 

A spokesperson from the University Of California Office of the President provided an update on the status of negotiations to Irvine Weekly. In an email the Office explained that it continues to negotiate with unions in good faith, but did not give a timeline on a foreseeable resolution.   

“At this time, we believe that the best path to an agreement is with the aid of a third-party mediator, and have proposed to the United Auto Workers enlisting the assistance of a neutral private mediator so that we can achieve a compromise,” the statement read. “We continue to encourage the union’s partnership in pursuing mediation. Our campuses are working to mitigate the impact of any strike activity on our students by ensuring, to the extent possible, continuity of instruction and research. This includes encouraging departmental and academic units to provide additional support and resources to students for learning. Additionally, campuses will be prepared for contingencies should a strike interfere with the conclusion of the academic term.”

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