Quick Take:

The University of California and the United Auto Workers agreed to private mediation on Friday to reach an agreement after a month of striking.

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Following months of negotiating and four weeks into the largest higher-education worker strike in U.S. history, the University of California and the United Auto Workers (UAW) agreed to private mediation Friday with the hopes of ending the standoff.

The UAW, which represents 48,000 teaching assistants, researchers, tutors and graders (including around 2,000 at UC Santa Cruz), went on strike Nov. 14 to demand higher wages and said the university engaged in unfair labor practices. The university denies any wrongdoing and says it has made generous proposals.

Postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers reached tentative agreements late last month. About 36,000 teaching assistants and student researchers from the two units have continued striking without a tentative agreement.

The agreement on mediation marks a significant shift in the ongoing labor action. UC officials say they had made seven requests to have a private mediator before this recent agreement, which the striking workers had rejected until now.

“The University is pleased that the UAW has agreed to neutral private mediation so that we may resolve our differences and end the strike that has been impacting our students, faculty, and staff,” Letitia Silas, executive director of systemwide labor relations, said in a statement. “We remain committed to securing a fair and reasonable contract with the union that honors the hard work of our valued graduate student employees. With the help of a neutral mediator, we hope to secure that agreement quickly.”

A timeline has yet to be set for mediation, the UC said. Neither side will speak publicly during those negotiations.

“We feel that in order to make progress, it is time for somebody else to step in,” Tarini Hardikar, a member of the union’s bargaining team, said in a statement to EdSource.

UCSC’s UAW 2865 head steward, Rebecca Gross, told Lookout that members of the bargaining unit from UCSC voted against mediation. She added they’re not sure exactly what mediation will look like.

“What’s key here is that these legal processes do not change our right to stay on strike, and they do not change our strategy and department organizing plans,” she said.

The mediation agreement comes just as the fall quarter closes and grading deadlines approach.

At UCSC, and across the UC system, thousands of grades are being withheld this quarter due to the strike. Some instructors simply can’t assess the students as they don’t have the capacity to grade hundreds of finals, while some faculty members have said they will not take up the struck labor their teaching assistants are withholding.

UCSC’s UAW members surveying each of the 37 departments and programs about grading found that out of the 17 departments surveyed so far, at least 6,600 grades are being withheld. Gross said it’s not known how many students are affected but the number will grow as they finalize the survey.

Gross added that while they understand withholding grades is causing stress for undergraduates, teaching assistants and campus officials are working to provide grades for the students who could be adversely affected.

UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason said that 100 to 200 UCSC undergraduate students who rely on financial aid could be affected by having missing grades.

“While these numbers may seem small, losing access to federal and state financial aid would be extremely disruptive for these students,” he said. “Our Financial Aid and Scholarships Office will be working with affected students and with faculty in an effort to mitigate these impacts.”

After three years of reporting on public safety in Iowa, Hillary joins Lookout Santa Cruz with a curious eye toward the county’s education beat. At the Iowa City Press-Citizen, she focused on how local...