Strikers at UCSB block a parking lot entrance near Cheadle Hall on Wednesday morning in an attempt to prevent staff from going to work. | Credit: Courtesy

It’s finals week for University of California students, and striking academic workers are ramping up disruptions statewide. As the strike enters week four, student workers at UC Santa Barbara are using the picket line to block staff from parking on campus, alongside holding sit-ins, chalking up sidewalks, and hanging large banners around campus to make their presence felt.  

Joe Costello is a striking graduate student researcher in the Physics Department at UCSB and an organizer for SRU-UAW, a local union affiliate that represents UC student researchers. He said the workers’ actions are the result of the UC being uncompromising at the bargaining table.

“The UC has been offering things that really do not address the material demands that me and everybody else really need, and we wanted to demonstrate that not only is our labor important, but we can disrupt the workers at the UC in other ways,” Costello said on Tuesday. “So, what we did is walk back and forth across crosswalks, which is totally legal, we’re just using the crosswalk a lot. If that meant that people couldn’t park, then they couldn’t park.”

One main parking lot, near campus administration offices, has only two points of entry and exit, making it easy for picketers to block access. Costello mentioned that they do let cars exit the lots, as their main goal is to “prevent people from coming to work.” 

Protesters at UCSB will continue their parking disruptions throughout the week, targeting lots used mostly by the administration, in addition to plans to pitch tents and camp-out on campus. “It’s … a way of disrupting the working of the University, and the hope is that this frustration will make its way up to the UC, and they will come and give us an offer that will actually work. Because, otherwise, these problems aren’t going to go away,” Costello continued.

Although tentative contract agreements have been reached for academic researchers and postdoctoral scholars at UC, the remaining two bargaining units, including graduate student researchers, teaching assistants, and tutors, are still in negotiations with the University. 

According to Ryan King, a UC spokesperson, the current proposal from the University, made over the weekend, “would increase salaries of the lowest paid GSRs nearly 40 percent, raising starting salaries for part time bargaining unit members from $22,005 to $30,540.” For part-time teaching assistants, who are at the lowest end of the salary scale, the UC proposed “a 7.5 percent increase in their first year, going from $23,246 to $24,990,” along with “experience-based increases in their second year of between 12.6 – 19.5 percent.” 

However, Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 2865, called the proposal “inadequate,” saying that strikers are “not done yet” and “disruption will continue.” Banners hung around UCSB express agreement, with bold, painted slogans such as “7.5% won’t pay the rent.” 

A strike banner hangs from the Engineering building on UCSB’s campus
| Credit: Callie Fausey

On Monday, other UC protesters staged sit-ins at the Sacramento and Oakland offices of the UC Office of the President, as well as rallied outside the California State Capitol building and the homes of UC Regent Jay Sures in Los Angeles and UC Irvine donor Henry Samueli in Newport Beach. That same night, union officials announced that 17 striking workers were arrested at the Sacramento office.

“I’m engaging in this act of civil disobedience because the stakes are incredibly high, and the UC is not demonstrating that they understand that,” said Jess Banks, a member of the bargaining team at UC Berkeley. 

King clarified that “the building in Sacramento where the protests took place is not owned by the University of California,” although the University does lease office space there. “It is our understanding that a small number of protesters were cited for trespassing, asked to sign arrest forms, and were released to their own recognizance. These actions were not taken at the direction of the University,” King said.

With finals week underway, striking workers are continuing to withhold their work. That includes refusing to proctor and grade final exams, which means undergraduate students may have to make up exams and class credits in the future, depending on when the strike will end. 

“The UC is pricing in the disruption of finals as they withhold concessions,” Costello said. 

Both the remaining bargaining units and the UC have expressed that they want to reach fair agreements as soon as possible. Until then, educational and transportational disruptions will continue to take place on University campuses.

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