UC academic workers strike heads toward Week 3 with minor bargaining updates

Striking graduate students picketing at the entrance to the UC Santa Cruz campus
Striking academic workers picketing at the entrance to the UC Santa Cruz campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Almost 50,000 researchers, teaching assistants and graders across 10 campuses, including UC Santa Cruz, finished their second week of striking with minor updates to negotiations for a new contract with the University of California system.

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UC Santa Cruz workers wrapped up their second week of striking Wednesday due to the Thanksgiving holiday as they demanded higher pay and better working conditions on campus.

They are among 48,000 teaching assistants, researchers, postdocs and tutors on strike across the University of California system’s 10 campuses. The union, United Auto Workers (UAW), represents more than 2,000 workers at UCSC.

“I think people are looking forward to a rest after 10 days of striking and eight days of picketing,” said UCSC’s UAW 2865 unit chair, Jack Davies. “On our campus, I’m not seeing any slowing down.”

Here, Lookout explains why the academic workers are striking, what the UC administration is offering and what could happen to grading for the quarter if the strike continues.

What the strikers are demanding

The current proposal from the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) still doesn’t meet the union’s demand for a minimum base pay of $54,000 for all workers. Throughout negotiations, UCOP has also said it can’t meet the union’s demand for wages that allow academic workers to spend no more than 30% of their income on rent.

WHO'S ON STRIKE AND WHAT THEY WANT

A look at the different classes of University of California academic workers currently on strike:

POSTDOCTORAL SCHOLARS (FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES)
Current salary range: $55,632- $66,600
Proposed new salary range: $60,000-$71,952 (7.5% or greater increase)

ACADEMIC RESEARCHERS (FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES)
Current salary range: $49,000-$242,900
Proposed new salary range: $50,960-$252,616 (4% increase)

ACADEMIC STUDENT EMPLOYEES
Current salary range (50% time): $23,246-$28,871
Proposed new salary range (50% time): $24,874-$30,893 (7% increase)

GRADUATE STUDENT RESEARCHERS
Current salary range (50% time): $22,005-$43,119
Proposed new salary range (50% time): $28,275-$47,679 (9-10% increases for most GSRs)

Source: University of California

The four units of UAW have slightly different demands, but they all continue to ask for pay increases that would relieve the rent burden, along with larger child care stipends.

UCSC’s UAW 2865, which represents teaching assistants (TAs)/readers/tutors, made a new proposal Monday night. It still includes a demand for $54,000 minimum base pay, bargaining members said Tuesday via Twitter.

In addition, they are requesting experience-based step increases so that salaries increase with additional years of work experience and increases on all compensation — including fellowships and bonuses.

The bargaining members said they’re waiting for the UC to respond.

“There hasn’t been any genuine movement [from the UC] since before the strike,” Davies said about the offers for the UAW 2865 unit.

He said the other units also continue to face similar vast differences between what they demand and what the UC is offering.

What the UC is offering

While the union and the UC have had daily bargaining sessions since Nov. 14, the UC said in a Wednesday update that “significant differences remain regarding a number of core issues.”

“Though we have reached many tentative agreements with the union, we remain apart on key issues related to tying wages and pay increases to housing costs and tuition remission for nonresident international students,” the UC statement read. “The University continues to call for the UAW to join us in seeking neutral private mediation to help secure a contract.”

Depending on their contract, workers often switch among titles and therefore duties and workloads. Postdocs and academic researchers are full-time employees whose pay comes primarily from external grant funds. Academic student employees (ASEs) are teaching assistants, readers and tutors who work about 20 hours a week in addition to earning their graduate or doctoral degree. Graduate student researchers (GSRs) are similar to ASEs in workload and are paid primarily from external grant funds.

Postdocs are asking for a minimum base salary of $70,000 and academic researchers are asking for a 14% increase — a significant difference still compared to what the UC is offering.

How long could the strike last?

With the UC and the union still without an agreement, the almost 50,000 workers continue withholding their labor: not conducting research, not grading assignments and not teaching their sections, among other duties.

The strikers' picket line forced detours at the UCSC campus entrance at High Street and Bay Drive.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Strikers said Wednesday they expected to be back on the picket line next week.

Davies said there were no bargaining sessions scheduled for the next few days but it’s possible that a session could happen before next week.

“More likely on Saturday or Sunday,” he said Wednesday.

While the UC has proposed that the two sides use a third-party mediator, Davies said as far as he knows no decision had been made.

What will happen to student grades for classes canceled due to the strike?

Instruction for the quarter ends on Dec. 2, ahead of final exams Dec. 5-9, raising questions and concerns by some about how students will be graded.

UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason said the university’s leaders are discussing with department chairs and college provosts on how to support instructors — who assign grades — during the strike. If the instructor can’t submit grades, the department or program chair or the college provost can appoint an alternate instructor — other faculty members or lecturers.

“The Academic Senate’s Committee on Educational Policy has specified that undergraduate grades not submitted within 30 days of the grading deadline, Dec. 14, will convert to a Pass (P) grade,” he wrote to Lookout on Wednesday. “Academic Senate policy also allows instructors to correct grades for up to a year after they have been issued.”

Lookout reached out to the deans of the university’s five academic divisions and the school of engineering and several department heads, to learn about the impacts of the strike and how they were responding, but most didn’t respond and two suggested speaking to Hernandez-Jason.



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