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University Of California Recognizes Graduate Student Researchers' Union

Dozens of students walk across a campus building in UCLA. Some pause to chat with friends.
The University of California has agreements with more than a dozen systemwide bargaining units.
(David McNew
Getty Images)
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After months of going back and forth over who qualifies as an employee, the University of California has officially recognized the union that represents graduate student researchers.

The researchers signaled their intent to unionize earlier this year, with the goal of securing a contract to protect them against issues like late pay and workplace discrimination. In August, the state Public Employment Relations Board verified the union’s right to be recognized.

The union, Student Researchers United-UAW, is made up of 17,000 people who work across the university’s 10 campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It’s also part of United Auto Workers, which represents tens of thousands of university employees throughout the United States.

UC management refused to recognize the union for months, arguing that some students with fellowships and training grants were not employees. In November, union organizers announced that members were prepared to strike if management did not change course. Both sides finally reached an agreement late last week, after the student researchers in question were added to the collective bargaining unit.

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“From the outset, UC fully supported our [graduate student researchers’] right to be represented by a union, and we and the UAW were in agreement that the vast majority of [them] belong in the new bargaining unit. However, there was a group of graduate students that required closer examination,” wrote UC spokesperson Ryan King in a statement. He also noted that the university has negotiated agreements with over a dozen systemwide bargaining units.

“You have some of the most brilliant minds of our generation working so hard to generate so much new knowledge, and yet so many of them are struggling to make ends meet,” said Raymundo Miranda, a neuroscience Ph.D. student at UC San Diego who is also a member of the strike committee. “The fight isn’t over yet, but we’re definitely very happy about this.”

Miranda sees the win as part of a larger labor movement in higher education and expressed solidarity with student workers across the country, particularly those at Columbia University, who launched their second strike of the year in early November.

“This is really going to improve the lives and working conditions of grad students — and the quality of research done in the UC and the United States as a whole," he said.

Student Researchers United-UAW will now focus on electing a bargaining committee to negotiate the contract they’re after.

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