SACRAMENTO — University of California academic workers have voted to return to work, union leaders announced Friday night, ending a historically significant strike that had disrupted research and teaching in the famed public system for nearly six weeks.
Ratification votes by significant majorities from two United Auto Workers split bargaining units ensure that tens of thousands of employees will return in January once the winter vacation ends in the 10-campus system. The deals were welcomed by union officials, though some negotiators argued the deal still did not provide enough wages and benefits for members beleaguered by California’s high cost of living.
“These agreements redefine what is possible in terms of universities supporting their workers, who are the backbone of their research and education enterprise,” said Rafael Jaime, a doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles. and president of the UAW 2865. , in a report. “They include particularly important improvements for parents and marginalized workers, and will improve the quality of life for every academic employee at the University of California.”
Some 48,000 unionized workers, mostly graduate students, walked out in November, and about 36,000 remained on strike after postdoctoral staff and researchers separately ratified their contracts this month. The work stoppage was the largest among college workers in national history.
Workers whose contracts were ratified on Friday do much of the day-to-day work involved in teaching in the classroom, from conducting office hours to leading focus groups, and their absence has already disrupted research, exams fall and scoring.
Union organizing and union campaigns
Union leaders and university administrators reached an agreement a week ago after a series of mediation talks led by Darrell Steinberg, the mayor of Sacramento, who is an attorney and University of California alumnus. But the ratification of the agreement was not a certainty.
The ‘yes’ vote came amid a week-long opposition campaign by union members who had argued throughout negotiations that teaching assistants, tutors and researchers could do better, given the influence they had amassed during the strike.
Union leaders at UC Santa Cruz, where academics staged a strike in 2020 without UAW support, said in a statement that employees voted overwhelmingly against ratifying the contract. They acknowledged that many members might be frustrated with the statewide vote, but took comfort in the broad mobilization of workers.
“We must celebrate the level and depth of rank-and-file engagement throughout this contract struggle and strike, which has surpassed any mobilization in the history of our local union,” Santa union representatives wrote. Cruz, encouraging the disappointed members to “redouble their efforts”. commitment to organizing that got us here” and to resist the urge to leave the union.
Key to the strike was the notoriously high cost of housing in California. The union had sought relief from soaring rents by demanding that the university explicitly tie compensation to the cost of on-campus housing. The workers had also asked the university to increase their base salary for part-time work to about $54,000 a year.
The agreement ratified on Friday did not raise wages to that level, but it did raise starting wages significantly over a two-and-a-half-year contract, with higher pay scales for more experienced workers and those facing particularly high housing costs. at campuses in Berkeley, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The starting salary will increase from about $22,000 to $35,500 for graduate student researchers and from about $23,000 to $34,000 for teaching assistants.
The agreement also included increased benefits for transportation, health care and childcare, and offered newly organized student researchers their first-ever contractual protections.
In a statement, the university expressed its gratitude to the union for agreeing to enter into voluntary mediation.
“Today’s ratification further demonstrates the university’s strong commitment to providing each of our hardworking employees with competitive compensation and benefits that honor their many contributions to our institution, our community, and the community. ‘State of California,’ Letitia Silas, executive director of system-wide labor relations for the university, said.