Academic workers demand better pay and benefits
As the University of California continues to stare down the largest strike to occur at an academic institution in recorded history, strikers and their supporters at the system’s Santa Barbara campus showed no signs of letting up in their demands as the labor action entered its fourth day on Thursday.
The strike is affecting all 10 UC campuses, with 48,000 workers on strike throughout the system.
Organizers at UCSB estimate that there are close to 2,500 people engaged locally in the labor action.
Several hundred academic workers — such as teaching and research assistants — along with their undergraduate supporters came together Thursday at UCSB for a faculty-led rally and march, during which tenured professors voiced solidarity with the strikers’ demands.
The academic workers, who are represented by United Auto Workers, are demanding increased pay, a cost of living agreement, the removal of out-of-state tuition cost differences, and increased childcare and transportation benefits.
The march advanced through the ocean-side campus Thursday afternoon, with spirited call-and-response slogans echoing across the grounds that contributed to an electric atmosphere within the crowd. Onlookers and passersby often paused to record or take photos of the large column of marchers, while many others gave signs of support to those involved in the labor action.
The strike arrived almost exactly one year after the University of California headed off a proposed strike by non-tenured UC lecturers by brokering an agreement with concessions two days before the labor action was set to begin.
It also comes on the heels of a series of unauthorized wildcat strikes at UC Santa Cruz in 2019 and 2020, during which graduate student TAs withheld 20% of the quarter’s final grades to pressure the university to implement cost of living adjustments in order to address the astronomical cost of housing in the region.
Leading up to and during the current strike, the University of California has
consistently asserted that it has been working in good faith with the academic workers to implement a new contract. UC President Michael Drake said during Wednesday’s UC Board of Regents meeting that the university’s offers were “generous and fair.”
“We offer this kind of support not only because it is the right thing to do, but because we want to continue to attract and retain the top students from across California and around the world to our graduate programs,” Dr. Drake said during the meeting. “I am confident that we can achieve a fair and equitable contract soon.”
Janna Haider, a fourth-year history doctorate student at UCSB who serves as the recording secretary for UAW 2065-Santa Barbara Unit and is helping organize strike activities at the campus, strongly disagreed with Dr. Drake’s assertions that the university was bargaining in good faith.
“Michael Brown should be very grateful for his rights under the First Amendment, because that has not been our experience of bargaining at all,” Ms. Haider told the News-Press prior to Thursday’s action. “We have had to file 28 unfair labor practice claims against the University of California … I probably wouldn’t say that I’m not doing something wrong if I had been sued for doing it 28 times, but that’s just me.”
Ms. Haider said the two primary causes for the claims include the University of California failing to respond to public information requests, as well as accusations that individual departments have been circumventing the bargaining process by engaging in direct negotiations with their unionized academic workers to deflate support for the strike.
She also pointed to the fact that a scheduled bargaining session for Thursday morning had been repeatedly pushed back by the university until it was delayed indefinitely.
The University of California has also strongly pushed back on worker demands for cost of living adjustments to address the high cost of housing in areas where UC campuses are situated. The university said in a Nov. 15 statement that implementing such changes “could have overwhelming financial impacts on the University,” pointing to a review of the union’s demand that indicated the proposal would cost “at least several hundred million dollars, with inflationary pressure and no cap.”
Ms. Haider, however, finds the University of California’s response meritless, pointing to the UC’s $46 billion budget for the current academic year as well as its $30 billion endowment. She also asserted that the university has the power to reallocate the funding necessary to secure a cost of living agreement for academic workers.
“This money exists,” she said. “Every single budget ever written has been a political document — the university choosing where to allocate its funds is a political choice. The fact that current TA salaries make up a vanishingly small percent of that overall budget — I believe the instructional budget overall, is about 3% of the total operating cost of the university and TA salary is 2% of that — the idea that we somehow would be responsible for tanking the university’s budget is ridiculous.”
When asked if the strike would continue through finals week if the union did not receive acceptable terms from the University, Ms. Haider was adamant that workers were in it for the long run.
“As long as the university keeps committing unfair labor practices and continues to refuse to bargain in good faith, we’ll be out there as long as we need to,” she said. “It is entirely up to the University of California how long this strike lasts.
“The university could end the strike at any time by stopping unfair labor practices, settling the unfair labor practices that have already been done, and actually bargaining with us. I will go back to work tomorrow if the university would behave reasonably.”