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Frustrated Over UC Negotiations, Student Workers Stage Protest At UCLA

Student protesters, some in hot pink shirts, hold up a banner that read "Student Researchers United," along with signs that read "STOP exploiting workers." The students are in the middle of the street, standing on a crosswalk.
Student workers and their supporters, en route to Wilshire boulevard.
(Julia Barajas
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The Los Angeles Police Department arrested more than two dozen student workers on Tuesday, following a sit-in on Wilshire and Westwood boulevards.

Frustrated Over UC Negotiations, Student Workers Stage Protest At UCLA

The sit-in was part of a series of demonstrations organized by student workers across California, including teaching assistants, postdocs, research assistants, tutors and readers. They’re currently in contract negotiations with UC administration. The demonstrations, they said, are meant to express solidarity and their collective power.

Members of three locals were present at the demonstration, including:

  • UAW 2865, which represents teaching assistants, tutors, readers and graders throughout the UC;
  • UAW 5810, which represents postdocs and academic researchers; and
  • Student Researchers United-UAW, which represents student researchers across the university’s 10 campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
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They’re all part of United Auto Workers, a union that advocates on behalf of tens of thousands of university employees throughout the United States.

Police officers, clad in riot gear, approach a circle of students sitting in a street intersection. It's daytime. The student workers are mostly clad in denim and hot pink shirts. An art museum and local shops loom in the background.
Police officers approach a group of protesting UC student workers, following orders to disperse.
(Julia Barajas

According to the locals, in recent bargaining sessions, UC administrators “have attempted to claw back important rights and benefits,” including support for housing, paid family leave and compensation.

Erika Cervantes, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, said in an emailed statement to LAist that University of California's leadership disagrees with the union’s assertions about take-aways and the university being intransigent:

Our proposals for postdocs and [graduate student researchers] include annual pay increases and enhanced paid leaves. We are very early in our bargaining with our other academic student employees and have not yet addressed those issues. We are committed to fair pay, quality benefits and a supportive, respectful work environment for all of our employees. We approach all of these negotiations with an open mind and a good-faith commitment to listening to union concerns and working collaboratively with union leaders to address priority issues.

A 'Necessary' Protest

In Westwood, more than 100 people gathered around UCLA’s Bruin statue for a brief rally before proceeding to the intersection. Once there, 26 student workers clad in hot pink shirts formed a circle in the middle of the intersection and sat down on the street. The rest of the demonstrators marched around them.

Police officers ordered those in the circle to disperse, in English and in Spanish. Those who’d marched around them were corralled into areas nearby. At about 3:00 p.m., dozens of officers descended on the demonstrators, zip ties in tow. Those who were arrested were loaded onto a bus.

The students were released later in the evening:

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Gaby Barrios, a Ph.D. student in UCLA’s Spanish and Portuguese department who serves as recording secretary for UAW 2865, said she understood commuters’ frustration with increased traffic.

“But this is the kind of frustration that we experience every day,” she added. “A lot of our workers have to live in their cars, a lot of workers don’t have access to the medical attention they need. Often, we work several jobs to make ends meet.”

She and her colleagues felt the disruption was necessary to draw the public’s attention to their demands.

“Our struggle might seem specific to some people but it’s connected to the larger struggle of workers,” said Barrios. “Everyone who is a worker can identify with the struggle of having unfair work conditions . . . In the future, it might be you guys blocking an intersection.”

Bernard James Remollino, a Ph.D. student in UCLA’s history department, expressed solidarity with the demonstrations, in part because of his lived experience. He now has stable housing, he told LAist, but earlier on in his graduate career, the chasm between his stipend and local rental rates forced him to couch surf. At one point, he lived out of his car.

He used to park his Dodge Challenger near the Los Angeles National Cemetery, just a few blocks from UCLA. He slept in a near-fetal position, which led to back pain, and showered in the school gym. And he wasn’t the only one, he said.

A lot of what enables schools like UCLA to be regarded as top-tier institutions depends on student workers’ labor, added Remollino, a DACA recipient who hails from the Philippines. In his view, organized labor “represents the possibility of building each other up.”

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