UCSB academic workers strike. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

It is the beginning of the end for the University of California academic workers’ strike. After a month of protests, rallies, and back-and-forth negotiations, all four union bargaining units representing 48,000 UC student employees have reached agreements with the university. 

Now, all that’s left is for graduate student researchers and academic student employees — including teaching assistants, tutors, and readers —  to ratify their new contract agreements, which were announced on December 16. 

“I’m really happy with the contract, and I hope it’s ratified,” said Joe Costello, a graduate student researcher in UCSB’s Physics Department and a rank-and-file union member. “I think it’s a significant win, especially for student researchers. People in my position will be making $50k a year in October 2024. This doesn’t eliminate the rent burden or solve every problem that we as graduate students at Santa Barbara have, but it does represent a significant step forward, with really unprecedented raises and protections against bullying.”

Over the two and a half years of the contract, graduate student workers would see raises of up to 66 percent, or more than $13,000 per year, at some campuses. 

“In addition to incredible wage increases, the tentative agreements also include expanded benefits for parent workers, greater rights for international workers, protections against bullying and harassment, improvements to accessibility, workplace protections, and sustainable transit benefits,” said Tarini Hardikar, a member of SRU-UAW, the bargaining team representing graduate student researchers, at UC Berkeley. “I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish with this contract.”

The ratification vote will begin Monday, December 19, and will conclude on Friday, December 23. If approved, the contracts will be effective through May 31, 2025, and both parties will be able to leave the bargaining table behind, at least for the time being.

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“We had a historic strike, and we’ve won a historic agreement,” said Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 2865, the union bargaining team representing academic student employees. “The progress we’ve made has been due to mass participation of membership, and it’s the membership who will decide on contract ratification.”

New, five-year contracts for UC postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers were ratified on December 9, and that same day marked the shift to voluntary mediation for negotiations between the UC and the bargaining teams representing graduate student workers. 

Following Darrell Steinberg, the mayor of Sacramento, taking on the role of mediator, it was only a matter of time before those remaining two bargaining units would put down their picket signs and pick up their pens to sign off on their own agreements. 

“I would like to thank Mayor Steinberg, and negotiators for both the University and the UAW, for coming together in a spirit of compromise to reach this tentative agreement,” said UC president Michael V. Drake. “If approved, these contracts will honor their critical work and allow us to continue attracting the top academic talent from across California and around the world. I would also like to thank our faculty, students, and staff, who have managed the burden of this strike with dedication and patience over the last month.”

Steinberg congratulated both sides for reaching the agreements. “Together, they reached a principled solution to end the difficult impasse,” he said. “Even more important, leadership and members together with the University deserve enormous credit for what they did to transform graduate education in the world’s most dynamic university system. The union fought hard to ensure that the university’s graduate students make a living wage at every campus community. They and the University achieved a new national standard for members.”

If the contracts are ratified, then the strike will officially end, and come January, academic student workers will return to their teaching and research. “I think many of us are really eager to return to work,” Jaime said at a press conference on Saturday. “And we’re glad that we are finally reaching that moment.”

Costello said he is “confident” that these wins for student workers will lead to more wins in two and a half years, when the proposed contracts expire. “I am especially excited for the young group of organizers who helped organize the strike and will be around for the next round of bargaining,” he said.

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