Following tentative deal between UC and academic workers, UC Santa Cruz union leaders encourage ‘no’ vote

Striking graduate students picketing at the entrance to the UC Santa Cruz campus
Signs piled up near the picket lines at the entrance to the UC Santa Cruz campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The University of California system’s 19,000 teaching assistants/tutors/graders and 17,000 graduate student researchers are voting this week on whether to accept a tentative agreement and end their strike or reject the deal and continue what’s thought to be the largest-ever labor action by U.S. university employees.

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UC Santa Cruz academic worker union leadership is urging members to reject a tentative agreement between the University of California and the union representing 36,000 academic workers systemwide.

The majority of bargaining team members of two units (teaching assistants/graders/tutors and student researchers) represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) voted Friday to accept the UC’s offer — one week into mediation coordinated by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

However, all of the members and alternates of the bargaining teams from UC Santa Cruz, as well as the UC Merced and UC Santa Barbara campuses, in addition to members from UC San Diego and UC Riverside, voted against the deal.

Those members and team alternates, who are launching a campaign to vote “no,” wrote in a statement that they oppose the agreement because the base pay and child care subsidies aren’t enough for all workers and a long-haul strike is still needed.

For example, the agreement offers an $11,000 increase in base pay to $34,000 by the 2024-23 academic year — far below the initial demand for an immediate increase to $54,000. Instead, the offer includes an immediate increase of just $2,000 for the base pay, with the remainder phased between now and October 2024.

UCSC union leaders say another concern is that the agreement includes higher pay for union members at UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Francisco than those at UCSC and other campuses.

“Our perspective as a campus, and of many folks at other campuses, is that we don’t feel that this offer is sufficient to address our needs,” said Jess Fournier, an alternate bargaining-team member of UAW 2865, which represents TAs, graders and tutors. “We have an enormous amount of power and leverage.”

If adopted, the contract would begin 90 days after the vote and would last for 2½ years. Voting began Monday at 8 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. Friday.

“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. This is a positive step forward for the University and for our students, and I am grateful for the progress we have made together,” said Michael V. Drake, president of the University of California, in a statement.

This tentative deal comes days after the units representing 11,000 postdoctoral scholars and postgraduate researchers went back to work on their new contracts after striking alongside the student researchers (UAW-SRU) and teaching assistants/graders/tutors (UAW 2865).

On Friday, bargaining members from the UAW 2865 unit voted 11-8 and bargaining members from the SRU unit voted 13-7 with one abstention to adopt the agreement.

What’s in the new tentative agreements?

While bargaining team members from UCSC and other campuses are organizing against them, other members are celebrating the agreements as historic victories.

At the onset of the strike, UAW’s bargaining team members demanded a base pay of $54,000 for all units and child care subsidies totaling $6,000. Eventually, a majority of the members agreed to a lower base pay of $43,000, which was lowered again in this tentative deal.

The agreements for UAW 2865 and the SRU units — who work part time — start with a slight pay increase followed by larger increases that start in October 2023 and then October 2024.

Rebecca Gross, a UCSC head steward of UAW 2865, is part of the “no” campaign and says the agreements fall short.

Strikers' picket lines forced detours at the UCSC campus entrance at High Street and Bay Drive in November.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I don’t think it is anywhere close to what we need to continue to work and live in Santa Cruz,” she said. “I’m expecting many [academic student employees] represented by 2865 at Santa Cruz will vote no on this agreement.”

For the UAW 2865 unit, which represents TAs, readers and tutors, the tentative agreement offers them a base pay of $25,000 (compared to the current base pay of about $23,000) starting 90 days after ratification. In October 2023, the base pay increases to $29,125 and again in October 2024 to $34,000.

For UAW-SRU, which represents student researchers, the agreement proposes a base pay of $30,540 for 12-month appointments starting 90 days after ratification. Pay then increases in October 2023 to $32,495, then again in October 2024 to $34,564.

Riley Collins, SRU bargaining team member at UCSC, says the majority of current SRs are in the Step 4 salary range at $28,404 (and very few are in the lowest three steps that start at about $22,000).

Concern over pay disparity

The base wage proposals for UAW 2865 apply to all 10 campuses but Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Francisco — which were offered slightly higher increases. By the 2024-25 year, the base pay will be $36,486.84 for those workers, almost $2,500 higher than the base pay for union members at UCSC and the other campuses.

UCSF’s student researchers would also receive higher pay raises. The proposed initial base pay would start at $45,320 and then increase to $48,220.48 for the 2024-25 academic year — almost $14,000 more than the base wage offered to UCSC student researchers.

Fournier said the disparity is concerning and that Steinberg didn’t provide clarity as to why those campuses received higher pay.

“It’s not linked to the cost of living and I think that’s very important to know — clearly Santa Cruz should be there if this is about being a high-cost campus,” they said. “Ultimately what we feel is that this is the UC trying to offer unequal pay for equal work to the higher-prestige, flagship campuses of S.F., Berkeley and L.A.”

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In addition, the bargaining team for both units agreed to child care subsidies totaling $1,350 per quarter or $2,025 per semester, plus $1,350 for summer — far short of the $6,000 per quarter and $9,000 per semester the units demanded.

The tentative agreements also provide an additional $100 child care subsidy per year, effective on Oct. 1, 2023, and Oct. 1, 2024.

Those who are encouraging a “no” vote say the subsidy leaves “parent workers in an even worse position than we started.”

Collins, the UCSC SRU bargaining-team member, said she thinks the “no” vote has a lot of momentum.

“I don’t see a ‘no’ vote for this contract as a referendum on our bargaining team,” she said. “What I see it as is a kind of recommitment to the strike by grad workers and a belief that by continuing to withhold our labor we can fight for more than what’s in this contract.”

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