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Dissent Among University Of California Academic Workers As They Vote On Agreements To End Five-Week Strike

A large group of young people, of all races, march forward holding blue and yellow signs saying "UAW ON STRIKE — UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE."
Hundreds of UC academic workers picketed for the 5th straight week at UCLA in Los Angeles on Dec. 14, 2022. The demonstration was held near the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center where the UC Board of Regents was meeting.
(Pablo Unzueta
/
CalMatters)
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Hours after University of California leadership and two striking unions announced a settlement agreement on Friday, union leaders started making cases to their rank-and-file about whether to accept or reject the deal.

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Dissent Among University Of California Academic Workers As They Vote On Agreements To End Five-Week Strike

The announcement of a tentative agreement on Friday afternoon came with electronic fanfare in an emailed press release.

It highlighted “raises of up to 66%, or over $13,000 per year at some campuses,” and benefits for parents, international students, and stronger protections against workplace discrimination.

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“I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish with this contract,” said Tarini Hardikar, a UC Berkeley graduate student and union bargaining team member, in the email.

Key Words: 'If Approved'

University of California leaders were also brimming with optimism for the deal that would end a five-week strike that started with 48,000 student workers.

“These agreements will place our graduate student employees among the best supported in public higher education,” said University of California President Michael Drake in a written statement released at the same time as the union’s.

“If approved, these contracts will honor their critical work and allow us to continue attracting the top academic talent from across California and around the world,” Drake said.

The key words there: “If approved.”

“I voted no on this tentative agreement, I voted against making this agreement with the university and then passing it to members for their ratification vote,” said Janna Haider, a UC Santa Barbara graduate student who’s on the bargaining team for UAW 2865, the union that represents teaching assistants, tutors, and readers.

She’s part of a group of about a dozen union bargaining team members who issued a dissenting statement hours after their union and President Drake issued their statements. They’re urging members to vote against the tentative agreement during open voting this week.

“I'm seeing a lot of anger and a lot of disappointment,” Haider said.

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I voted no on this tentative agreement, I voted against making this agreement with the university and then passing it to members for their ratification vote.
— Janna Haider, a UC Santa Barbara graduate student who's a union bargaining team member

The unions’ rallying cry was to raise base salaries to $54,000 for members of her union. The proposal doesn’t do that, she said, raising salaries to just over $34,000 but not until the fall of 2024. That will not lift the lowest paid members of her union out of the precarious living conditions they’ve lived under, she said. They’ve created a chart that suggests the proposed increases will not make a big enough dent in academic workers’ housing insecurity.

The union that represents UC postdoctoral students and academic researchers announced a tentative agreement on Nov. 29. Approval from members was 89% for postdocs and 74% among academic researchers.

The tentative agreements need a simple majority for approval.

Strike Fatigue

There was no organized dissent to the postdoctoral student tentative agreement like that which she’s helping to organize. She’d like to see the two unions that struck the tentative deal continue the strike and return to the bargaining table to secure higher wages.

One challenge: the proposed contract is over 100 pages long. The other: the strike fatigue among the academic workers who walked off the job.

The strike has been quite a toll on a lot of people.
— Jerry Lin, doctoral student in earth system science at UC Irvine

“The strike has been quite a toll on a lot of people,” said Jerry Lin, a doctoral student in earth system science at UC Irvine. He stopped his research during the strike. He’s looking into better ways to study clouds in order to understand their impact on global warming. He’s eager to get back to it because it’s an urgent issue.

He’s voting yes on the tentative agreement.

“If we vote 'no' on said agreement, if it doesn't pass, we lose that volunteer mediator, who was not only government-appointed, but is pro-labor,” Lin said.

The two deals came a week after both sides agreed to ask longtime California politician and labor lawyer Darrell Steinberg to look at proposals from both sides and mediate an agreement.

For their part, the dissenters said they’re organizing town halls on their campuses in order for more of their colleagues to take a critical look at the tentative agreements and to try to convince them that they can do better.

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Adolfo Guzman-Lopez focuses on the stories of students trying to overcome academic and other challenges to stay in college — with the goal of creating a path to a better life.