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University of California academic workers are on strike for higher pay

Hundreds of UC Santa Cruz workers held picket signs at the entrance to campus. The workers demand higher pay as part of a statewide strike.
Jerimiah Oetting
Hundreds of UC Santa Cruz workers held picket signs at the entrance to campus. The workers demand higher pay as part of a statewide strike.

The statewide strike includes 48,000 workers involved in teaching and instruction, who are demanding higher wages to keep up with the rising cost of living in California

Tens of thousands of workers involved in instruction and research at the University of California are on strike today, in what they're calling the largest strike at any academic institution in history. The workers are demanding higher wages and accusing the university of unfair labor practices.

The strike started on Monday, and involves about 48,000 academic researchers, post-doctoral researchers, academic student employees, and student researchers across all ten University of California campuses. The workers are represented by multiple bargaining units under the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

At UC Santa Cruz, the fight for higher pay among academic workers is a familiar one. In 2020, graduate students at UC Santa Cruz held a wildcat strike, demanding an additional $1,400 a month to pay for the area's high cost of living. Santa Cruz was recently named as the second-most expensive rental market in the U.S.

That strike lost momentum due to the pandemic, but the university did create a needs-based annual housing stipend of $2,500 — which fell short from the nearly $17,000 annual pay increase demanded by graduate students.

Now, the striking academic workers say the pandemic and inflation have made things even worse.

"It's bad," said Kyle Galindez, a PhD student studying Sociology at UC Santa Cruz. "Everyone is feeling really harmed by how expensive housing in, and just how completely untenable the situation has become."

The UAW's core demands include a base salary of $54,000 for graduate students like Galindez — nearly double their current average pay of about $2,400 a month. The union is also demanding $70,000 for post-doctoral researchers, child care benefits, and more.

Stefan Yong is on the bargaining unit for UAW 2865, which represents academic student workers. He says the salary increases are meant to keep workers out of "rent burden" — when rent costs more than 30% of a person's income. Yong, who is also a PhD student in the History of Consciousness department, says about half of his income goes to rent.

"The data tells us about the conditions of graduate workers, where 90% of us are rent burdened, and half of us are severely rent burdened," he said. "We want a situation where every worker represented in the union...has a base pay that allows us to not live in rent burden."

The University of California says it's negotiating in good faith and has offered salary increases and other benefits, like expanded pregnancy leave and childcare reimbursements. Its offerings vary between worker groups. For student workers like Galindez, who often work as teaching assistants in addition to producing research, the University has offered 7% salary increases within the first year of the contract, and 3% increases in subsequent years.

But those proposed increases are a long way from the nearly 100% increase sought by the union, an amount workers say will help take them out of rent burden.

"We're being asked to provide high quality publish research, and you struggle to pay your basic bills," Galindez said. "It just adds a lot of stress all around."

The strike continued on Tuesday, with no updates on negotiations from either the union or the University of California.

Jerimiah Oetting is KAZU’s news director. Prior to his career in public media, he was a field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.
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