UCSB academic workers strike. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

The UC academic workers’ strike for a better contract and fair bargaining entered its third day Wednesday, and thousands of picketers from all 10 UC campuses have not indicated any sign of lost momentum. That includes UCSB’s own picket line, which has so far been joined, or at least uncrossed, by many faculty members and students in showings of solidarity. In another show of unity with strikers, the California Labor Federation on Wednesday afternoon called for the cancellation of all speaking engagements, meetings, and events on UC campuses until the strike is over.

Tuesday’s rallies across UC campuses asking the University to resume bargaining — after administrators said they would not return to the table until Wednesday — proved successful, according to a union press release. Starting at 2 p.m., parties discussed benefits related to green, alternative transportation, which seems to be progress toward the bargaining in good faith both sides of the picket line claim they want to engage in. 

The strike officially began on Monday. After many months at the bargaining table, UC Academic Workers represented by the United Auto Workers union (UAW) voted with 98 percent support to authorize the strike against 28 alleged unfair labor practices committed by the UC. Charges filed against the University include bypassing the union, failing to provide information, making unilateral changes without negotiation, and obstructing the bargaining process. 

According to union representatives, the alleged unlawful practices have “thwarted” progress made toward bargaining for a better contract to meet the cost of living, among other proposals. The UC denies the allegations. 

Various acts in support of the strike have occurred over the past few days, including professors canceling classes and truck drivers refusing to cross picket lines to deliver packages, the union’s Tuesday update stated.

Their latest press release, issued Wednesday, included a notice that the California Labor Federation “sanctioned the strike and is asking all elected officials to respect the strike sanction by canceling speaking engagements and meetings on UC campuses until UC ceases its unlawful behavior and settles fair contracts.”

“We have issued a statewide strike sanction, and we expect allies to respect the strike sanction and picket line by canceling any speaking engagements, meetings or events on UC campuses until fair contracts are settled,” said Lorena González Fletcher, head of the California Labor Federation.

Responding to questions about the potential cancellation of events on UCSB’s campus, UCSB spokesperson Kiki Reyes said that the “campus, including Arts & Lectures, is moving forward with previously scheduled events during the ongoing negotiations. In the event of a cancellation, ticket holders will be notified as soon as possible.”

UAW 2865 President Rafael Jaime said “there will be no business as usual” on UC campuses “unless UC stops its unlawful conduct, commits to round-the-clock bargaining, and reaches fair agreements.” However, the UAW clarified that they are “not calling for undergraduates to boycott their classes, or for employees with no-strikes clauses and non-represented employees to take actions that could jeopardize their employment.”

Class cancellations for UCSB students have already begun, and while the exact impact and spread of this interruption on students is unclear, multiple undergrads have reported classes, and especially TA-taught sections, being mothballed. Faculty and staff across the board have shown support for the strike, but instruction in the humanities appears to be more susceptible to cessation in solidarity; various political, environmental, writing, foreign language, and social science courses have reportedly been called off. 

In addition, the UCSB Faculty Association announced that on Thursday, they will be holding a solidarity rally on campus, according to Ralph Armbruster Sandoval, a professor in the Chicana/o Studies Department. 

In response to inquiries about continued instruction, UCSB issued a statement saying, “Most classes have recently completed their midterms. The University is continuing negotiations with the union and is planning for finals to take place as scheduled.”

However, some undergraduate students, like CCS biology major Lauren Jennings, have already taken certain finals off their schedules. Jennings said that her Feminist Studies professor is supporting the strike by canceling class for the remainder of the quarter, and recently announced that Jennings and her classmates would not be taking their final exam.

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With finals season just a few weeks away, further interference with instruction and research seems inevitable as picketing workers prepare to keep the strike going until their requests are met. Many TAs will not be around to teach or grade, so it’s possible that more exam plans could be adjusted or canceled.

“We are willing to bring the University’s functions of education and teaching to a halt. We are willing to stop classes, to stop lectures. We are willing to withhold grades; that is going to be our biggest weapon, because the grading deadline is December 14,” said Misa Nguyen, a graduate student in the history department and a TA for Greek Mythology, at the UCSB rally on Monday. 

The UC’s student workers make an average of about $24,000 annually; the unions are calling for a base annual salary of $54,000 for all grad workers and a $70,000 salary for postdocs

On Monday, Evan Plunkett, a postdoc at UCSB and the postdoc unit chair for UAW-5810, said that “One of the main goals, across all units, is the elimination of rent burden,” which is defined as more than 30 percent of an employee’s income going toward paying for housing. “But right now, and for the indefinite future, the goal is to get the UC to work with us,” he continued.

In negotiation, the UC proposed adjusting salary scales and hourly wages for each bargaining unit, which includes initial increases in the range of 4 to 8 percent and additional, annual increases ranging from about 3 to 6 percent in each subsequent contract year. 

For reference, UC’s proposal would mean that in the first year of the contract, that average annual wage for student workers would only increase by an estimated amount of $960 to $1,920.

Fair UC Now’s bargaining summary emphasizes that the teaching and research that graduate student workers provide for the University brings in essential funding, and says that their “compensation should match [their] contributions and keep up with the cost of living.” The summary also includes the fairly pointed claim that “Instead of addressing our rent burden, UC bought President Drake a $6.5 million mansion.” 

In the latest update by the UC, they stated that they have proposed to the UAW enlisting the assistance of a third-party, neutral mediator so they can “achieve a compromise.” Furthermore, they said, following negotiations through the weekend, the resulting, current University proposal “would set the standard for graduate employee support among public research. It is important to note that our graduate student employees work strictly on a part-time basis while earning their graduate or doctoral degree, and that compensation is just one of the many ways in which they are supported as students during their time with the University.”

In response to UC’s new proposal to shift to mediation, UAW 2865 President Rafael Jaime said, “At this point, the priority should be round-the clock-bargaining in good faith as opposed to switching to a mediation process. We remain willing and able to meet with the University on an ongoing basis to reach a resolution.”  

According to the UAW, “The best ways for UC undergraduates and staff to support the strike continues to be joining workers on the picket line and contributing to the hardship fund.”

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