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48,000 UC academic workers poised to strike, including at UCSD, affecting classes, labs and research

UAW-represented workers at the University of California and their supporters march in Westwood in April.
Hundreds of UAW-represented University of California workers and their supporters march in Westwood in April to protest wages and working conditions.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Four union bargaining units representing teaching assistants, postdoctoral scholars, academic and graduate student researchers, tutors, fellows and others are set to picket Monday, Nov. 14, at all 10 UC campuses.

Nearly 48,000 University of California academic workers who research, mentor and teach are poised to strike Monday, Nov. 14, in a labor action that could shut down some classes and lab work weeks before final exams.

In what would be the nation’s largest strike of academic workers, four UAW bargaining units representing teaching assistants, postdoctoral scholars, academic and graduate student researchers, tutors, fellows and others are set to picket from 8 a.m. at all of UC’s 10 campuses, including UC San Diego in La Jolla. The campuses are scheduled to remain open and plan to continue instruction and operations.

The workers are demanding significant pay increases, with many saying they are struggling to afford housing near their campuses, which are located in some of California’s priciest real estate markets. A union survey found that 40 percent of graduate student workers spend more than half their pay on rent and that 92 percent of them spend more than 30 percent, said Rafael Jaime, a UCLA Ph.D. candidate and president of UAW 2865, which represents 19,000 teaching assistants, tutors and readers.

Other demands include child care subsidies, enhanced health care for dependents and longer family leaves; public transit passes; lower tuition costs for international scholars and better accessibility for workers with disabilities.

    “We teach the classes, grade the papers and perform the cutting-edge research that has earned UC its reputation as the best public university in the world and the global leader of [top] research institutions,” the unions said in a statement. “In short, UC works because we do.”

    UC San Diego told The San Diego Union-Tribune in a statement that the university “is prepared to ensure the continuity of learning and research should there be a strike. At this time, there are no plans to change class schedules, office hours or campus services. However, depending on the level of strike participation, some undergraduate, graduate and research activities could be impacted.”

    “UC San Diego will provide additional information in the coming days,” the statement concluded.

    The University of California system said in a statement that it recognizes “these employees’ important and highly valued contributions to the university’s teaching and research mission” and has offered “fair” proposals that would increase wages, extend paid leave, increase child care benefits and cover all campus fees for eligible workers.

    But the two sides remain far apart on key issues.

    On pay, for instance, graduate students — who serve as teaching assistants, tutors and readers — are demanding $54,000 annually, a wage increase that would more than double their average current pay of about $24,000.

    UC is offering a salary scale increase of 7 percent the first year and 3 percent in each subsequent year. The university says affordable housing is a problem for Californians overall, including many UC faculty, students and staff, and that campus rents are 20 percent to 25 percent below market rates.

      But many graduate students say those reduced campus rates are still too high to afford.
      The two sides have made some progress. They came to an agreement, for instance, on stronger protections against workplace bullying and abuse.

      But the unions allege that UC has violated labor law by bypassing the bargaining system and unilaterally changing working conditions for certain workers. They have filed 23 unfair labor practice allegations with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. The board has issued complaints in three of those cases.

      UC denies any unlawful behavior and says differences should be worked out at the bargaining table, not at picket lines.

      — San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Gary Robbins contributed to this report.