With tens of thousands of workers at the state’s university campuses still on strike, negotiations continue between the unions, affiliated with the United Auto Workers and the administration of the University of California. The strike, which began Nov. 14, involves some 48,000 teaching assistants, lab assistants, researchers and other UC employees.
At issue is pay which currently averages only $24,000 a year. Teaching assistants say that their rent alone takes up close to 60 percent of their wages. The university has offered an increase of only 5 percent the first year and 3 percent afterward which the union flatly rejected.
Campuses in the university system from Berkeley to San Diego were being picketed and many faculty members cancelled classes or transferred to Zoom rather than cross picket lines. “We’re the backbone of the university,” said Rafael Jaime, a doctoral student and president of UAW Local 2865, representing 19,000 teaching assistants, tutors, tutors, and other classroom workers. “We’re the ones who perform the majority of the teaching and the majority of the research.”
Graduate students have long been a way universities have avoided hiring more higher paid, tenured professors and saving money. Over the past year, these grad students around the country have voted to unionize and engage in collective bargaining to improve their conditions. They have successfully negotiated contracts at Columbia University and New York University and are seeking recognition at a number of other campuses.