After a monthlong strike, the University of California and the union come to terms

After a monthlong strike, the University of California and the union come to terms

Friday, the University of California reached an agreement with over 36,000 graduate student teaching assistants and other academic workers for better pay and benefits, which could end a month-long strike — the largest of its type in the US — at the prestigious university system.

The strike disrupted courses on all ten campuses of the university system. The accord must be accepted before the strike may end formally.

Over the next two years, the bargaining units estimated that some workers may receive raises of up to 66%. The contracts would be in effect until May 31, 2025.

“The tentative agreements also include expanded benefits for parent workers, greater rights for international workers, protections against bullying and harassment, improvements to accessibility, workplace protections, and sustainable transit benefits,” UC Berkeley union bargaining team member Tarini Hardikar said in a Friday news release.

The impact of the wage increases and increased benefits could extend beyond California. Colleges and universities have increasingly relied on faculty and graduate student employees for teaching and research that was traditionally performed by tenure-track academics, but without the same compensation or benefits, for several decades.

Michael V. Drake, president of the University of California, said in a Friday news release, “These agreements will position our graduate student employees among the best supported in public higher education.” “Should these contracts be approved, we will be able to continue drawing the best academic talent from throughout California and the world.”

William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York, stated that the 32-day UC strike was closely observed throughout the country, in part because it is the largest strike of academic workers in higher education.

The strike at UC, like the others, “demonstrates that strikes are a very forceful means of achieving objectives,” he said.

The accord comes weeks after the UC system secured a similar arrangement with postdoctoral staff and academic researchers, who represent approximately 12,000 of the 48,000 union members who went on strike on November 14. According to a statement from United Auto Workers Local 5810, this agreement will enhance salary by as much as 29% and provide more family leave, child care subsidies, and longer appointments to assure work security.

With their existing earnings, the academic staff stated they could not afford to live in locations such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and Berkeley, where housing costs are skyrocketing.

Tim Cain, associate professor of higher education at the University of Georgia, remarked that the strike was significant not only for its breadth and scope, but also for what it could represent for other colleges. If graduate employees and researchers ratify the contracts, it could drive similar reforms at universities in competition with the University of California or where graduate workers are building unions.

Long-term trends at American institutions have resulted in an increasing reliance on graduate students to teach classes and perform other responsibilities once performed by tenured faculty.

Cain stated, “there is a fundamental shift in who is performing academic labor in higher education.” The wages of graduate students have not kept pace with inflation, he continued, and competition for full-time faculty positions is intensifying.

The strike occurred during a period of rising labor action countrywide, not only in higher education but also among workers at Starbucks, Amazon, and other companies, as well as a surge in unionization efforts among graduate student employees at other colleges.

This year, graduate student workers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Clark University, Fordham University, New Mexico State University, Washington State University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute voted unanimously in support of unionization.

 

 

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