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48,000 UC academic workers go on strike, including at UC San Diego

Unionized academic workers picket at UC San Diego in La Jolla after walking off the job Nov. 14.
Unionized academic workers picket at UC San Diego in La Jolla after walking off the job Nov. 14 as part of a systemwide strike against the University of California.
(Giovanni Bernal Ramirez)

The strike is calling for better pay and benefits for teaching assistants, postdoctoral scholars, graduate student researchers, tutors and fellows.

About 48,000 unionized academic workers across the University of California’s 10 campuses — including UC San Diego in La Jolla — walked off the job Nov. 14, calling for better pay and benefits.

The workers perform the majority of teaching and research at the state’s premier higher education system.

The systemwide strike includes teaching assistants, postdoctoral scholars, graduate student researchers, tutors and fellows, as well as workers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and caused multiple disruptions to scheduled classes just weeks before final exams.

The strike marks the largest work stoppage of the year so far, and union leaders say it will be the biggest at any academic institution in history.

Workers began joining the picket lines at 8 a.m., demonstrating with signs, T-shirts and chants at multiple locations across the campuses.

The 48,000 workers, represented by four UAW bargaining units, have demanded base salaries of $54,000, a wage increase that would more than double their average current pay of about $24,000 annually.

UC has offered a salary scale increase of 7 percent in the first year and 3 percent in each subsequent year, but workers have said that’s not sufficient.

In addition to pay increases, workers are seeking child care subsidies, enhanced health care benefits for dependents, public transit passes, lower tuition costs for international scholars and better accessibility for workers with disabilities.

A large crowd of striking academic workers picket at UC San Diego on Nov. 14.
(Giovanni Bernal Ramirez)

UC San Diego is heavily dependent on graduate students to teach classes and conduct research. The school is among the world’s 10 largest research universities.

About 1,000 students peacefully rallied outside UCSD’s Geisel Library shortly before 1 p.m., shouting “Shut it down, shut it down.”

“We have turned away a lot of people,” said Kathryne Metcalf, a student protest leader. “But we’re not physically stopping people from going into class.”

Jocelyn Brossia, editor of the UCSD Guardian newspaper, said classes were being canceled across campus due to the strike.

Sky Yang, president of Associated Students, said some professors were putting their classes online so students didn’t have to cross picket lines.

The university said no major disruptions had been reported through noon.

Rafael Jaime, president of UAW Local 2865, which represents 19,000 of the 48,000 workers, was out early Nov. 14 at UCSD with fellow striking union members and said the energy was high.

“We’re going to be out here as long as it takes,” Jaime said. He said the union continues to negotiate “around the clock,” and, while some progress has been made on stronger protections against workplace bullying and abuse, he said the two sides remain “still far apart on many of the issues that will make UC a more equitable university.”

UC said differences should be worked out at the bargaining table, not on the picket lines. “UC remains committed to continuing its good-faith efforts to reach agreements with UAW as quickly as possible,” the university said in a statement.

A group of 33 state lawmakers sent a letter in support of the graduate student workers urging UC President Michael Drake to bargain in good faith.

“The UC is one of the top public university systems and research institutions in the world, in no small part because of its ability to attract the most talented scholars from a wide array of backgrounds,” the letter reads. “But the UC system cannot live up to its mission and reputation if its own employees do not feel respected.”

Last November, the university system narrowly avoided a strike planned by about 6,500 lecturers after reaching a last-minute agreement that improved their job security and included raises.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe and San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Gary Robbins contributed to this report.