Academic student workers at UC Santa Barbara took up their picket signs once again on Monday to continue the ongoing systemwide strike for a fair contract and good-faith bargaining process with the UC. Faculty at UC campuses statewide held solidarity rallies, including members of the UCSB Faculty Association, to support workers on strike and mobilize their colleagues to respect the picket line.
Felice Blake, a tenured professor in the English Department, said the protests were “all too familiar,” as she had been a student at multiple UC schools while obtaining her degrees. She referenced the hunger strikes that took place at UC campuses in the 1990s, saying that the picket line is “the greatest classroom at the UC.”
“If there is concern about the continuation of education, then get down here to the picket line and get educated,” Blake said.
Support for the strike, which has now entered its second week, has grown. Most recently, 18 members of California’s congressional delegation, led by Representative Katie Porter of Irvine, signed a letter to UC President Michael Drake, asking him to bargain in good faith immediately with the United Auto Workers (UAW) — the union organizing the strike — and “to improve the working conditions of all Academic Workers and implement benefits and compensation commensurate with the value they provide the University.”
“We’re hopeful that UC will listen to Congress, to the community, and to the tens of thousands of workers who are asking to be treated fairly. And we will be on the picket lines until they do,” said Rafael Jaime, President of UAW 2865, which represents 19,000 of the 48,000 striking workers, including many of those at UCSB’s rally on Monday.
Bargaining teams have continued meeting in person and on Zoom, according to Sheila Kulkarni, a graduate student worker in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCSB. Kulkarni said that throughout the bargaining process, the UC has been “piecemeal,” but that it is “clear” the University is taking notice of their strike, including allegedly sending “threatening emails” to union members detailing potential “academic penalties” for engaging in the strike. The UC denies any allegations of engaging in Unfair Labor Practices during negotiations.
“If we don’t work, then the University doesn’t either,” Kulkarni said, also declaring that for those on campus not respecting the picket line, “We will find you and we will shut down your classes.”
According to Ryan King, a representative from the UC Office of the President, the University “respects the right of bargaining unit members to engage in a strike,” and hopes “to reach a fair agreement as soon as possible.” He maintained that the UC is ensuring, to the extent possible, the continuity of instruction and research, and that they are “prepared for alternative methods of instructional delivery,” as well as communicating with UC communities to “prepare students” for disruptions to teaching, research, and other activities.
Strikers have promised to be disruptive and seem to be following through. Some faculty at UC campuses who have crossed picket lines by continuing to work or offering alternatives to TA instruction have been labeled as “scabs” and specifically targeted by mobilization efforts.
Part of Monday’s march through campus included a noisy, attention-grabbing parade through Harold Frank Hall, home to the college of engineering, where an unnamed physics professor was holding a lecture. According to protesters, this professor has supposedly made efforts to “break the strike” by teaching all nine sections of his lecture, i.e., picking up the work his teaching assistants have struck. Protestors chanted “No classes, no labs, no rats, no scabs,” as they made their way through the building’s main hall.
Rebecca Martin, a TA in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, was apparently the sole protester from their discipline on the picket line Monday. “I am personally very frustrated with my department,” Martin said, explaining an instance in which they did not attend a TA meeting and was met with accusations from fellow TAs that they were “not pulling their weight.” “They said I should be the one to grade all of the finals all by myself, because I am going on strike,” Martin yelled through their megaphone. “That’s why this is personal to me.”
Eileen Boris, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Feminist Studies and co-president of the UCSB Faculty Association, made a particularly dramatic gesture in support of strikers during Monday’s rally. Boris began her speech dressed in full regalia.
“I may look like a distinguished faculty member,” she began, just before stripping off her gown to reveal a student union T-shirt and leather pants, “…but we need to remember we are all workers!”