48,000 University of California workers strike!

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Striking University of California academic researches marching in Sacramento

THE UAW (United Auto Workers) union has been leading a strike involving some 48,000 academic workers in ten University of California cities — including Berkeley, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

The strike, believed to be the biggest organised labour action in the US this year and the biggest in history involving higher education, began early on November 14 after contract talks stalled on improving wages, job security and workplace protections.
After 15 days on strike, the UAW units representing about 12,000 postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers reached tentative five-year agreements with the university.
They are voting on whether to ratify through this week to Friday.
The academic workers on strike over the past three weeks have been postdoctoral scholars who do professional research, teaching assistants, academic student employees, graduate student researchers, academic researchers, readers, tutors and others.
Until their tentative agreements are ratified, postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers plan to continue striking in support of the 36,000 other UAW-represented members still bargaining for a contract.
A statement by UAW Local 5810 last Thursday said: ‘On Monday evening, we reached a tentative agreement with UC (University of California) on a new contract. Now Postdocs will vote on ratifying the contract.
‘The online vote will run from Monday, December 5th through Friday December 9th. You will be sent a link to a secure ballot on the morning of December 5th.
The bargaining team strongly recommends you vote “Yes” on this tentative agreement as it includes major improvements in compensation, a new childcare benefit, expanded parental/family leave, new protections against bullying/abusive conduct, increased job security, new international scholar rights, improvements for Postdocs with disabilities, and support for green commuting.
‘The Postdoc Bargaining Team is online holding town hall meetings to discuss the Tentative Agreements and answer questions today and Monday
‘2022 Postdoc Tentative Agreement Summary:
Compensation
and Benefits

  • Most Postdocs will receive a 20-23% salary increase (up to $12,000) by October 2023; over the course of five years as a Postdoc at UC, the current lowest paid Postdoc would see a 55% salary increase;
  • For 2024-2027: 7.2% annual increase for Postdocs on the scale (3.5% scale increase and 3.7% experience step), 3% annual increase for above-scale Postdocs;
  • Faster timeline to first experience-based step.

Health Benefits

  • 33% decrease in Postdoc premium costs for HMO family plans starting in 2024;
  • New IVF and acupuncture benefits starting in 2024;
  • Green Commuting (Parking and Transportation Article);
  • Commitment by UC to provide free transit passes at every campus;
  • Pre-tax transit benefits for all Postdocs;
  • New e-bike discounts

Equity Provisions
Paid Parental and
Family Leave

  • Increase from four weeks to eight weeks of leave at 100% pay;
  • Leave can now be used for Family Care as well as Parental Leave

Childcare Benefit
• $2,500 annual childcare subsidy that will increase each year;

  • New pre-tax childcare savings accounts

Protections Against Abusive Conduct and Bullying

  • New Respectful Work Environment Article including industry-setting protections against abusive conduct and bullying that are fully grievance and arbitrable;
  • Interim measures after reporting abusive conduct;
  • Improvements in discrimination and harassment protections

New Immigration
Article

  • Guaranteed leave time for immigration appointments;
  • Protections if immigration laws change (such as DACA or travel bans);
  • Joint labour-management meetings to address Postdoc immigration issues;
  • Improved rights to attend immigration and visa counselling workshops

Access Needs/Reasonable Accommodations

  • Faster timelines to addressing access needs via interim accommodations;
  • New joint-labour management meetings to improve disability access;
  • Required notification in appointment letters about right to disability accommodation

Improved Union Rights
Union Access and Rights

  • Monthly Postdoc orientations at each campus to ensure every new Postdoc receives an orientation on their rights under the union contract and their union

Union Security

  • A more efficient process that will ensure all Postdocs get a union membership form at initial appointment;
  • Defeated UC’s attempts to eliminate union membership form from hiring paperwork

Grievance and
Arbitration Process

  • An improved process to ensure timely resolution of all workplace issues, including streamlining of the arbitration process that will prevent UC from delaying resolution.’

‘The work these strikers do for the university and their impact is not trivial: They perform experiments, write research grant proposals, and generate creative ideas that push the boundaries of their fields.
‘Their hard work and dedication is a major reason why the school system received $3.7 billion in federal research contracts and grant revenue in fiscal year 2020,’ US Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, said in a 2021 letter to the UC president expressing support for the academic workers.
UAW President Ray Curry said in a statement last Friday: ‘Our union has been a part of the fight for academic workers to have the legal right to bargain since the 1980s. We have laid the groundwork to establish that right through numerous court cases and strategic campaigns.
‘We will continue to lead in this sector as we bargain innovative contracts that set the standard for workers in higher education.’
‘We are proud to have reached agreements that address the soaring cost of living, and reflect the value of our contributions at UC,’ said UAW Local 5810 President Neal Sweeney.
Now, all eyes are on negotiations between UAW LOCAL 2865 which is bargaining for 36,000 academic student employees (ASEs) and student researchers.
UAW Local 2865 posted on its website last week:
ASEs are winning key victories:
‘At the bargaining table, ASEs are winning greater control over our lives and futures. Beat back the UC’s attempts to make it easier to discipline or dismiss workers.
5% is not enough!
‘At the bargaining table last Friday, UC finally dropped their demands to roll back our contract rights around discipline and dismissal – meaning that Academic Student Employees (ASEs) will keep our rights.
Class sizes & relocation benefits:
‘On Tuesday’s bargaining session, while the UC was dragging its feet in responding to previous proposals, Bargaining Team members introduced new articles which would improve the working conditions of Academic Student Employees.
UAW files Unfair Labor
Practice charges against UC:
‘Last Friday, UAW 2865 and SRU-UAW filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against UC for their failure to bargain in good faith by circumventing union contract negotiations.
Thousands take the streets for a fair contract:
‘Yesterday (Monday), thousands of UC academic workers took to the streets to demand living wages and a safe workplace free from harassment and bullying. While UC admin refuses a coordinated bargaining table.’
The UAW-represented academic workers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Davis, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Riverside, Irvine and Merced do much of the research and teaching at the University of California.
UC has more than 800 research centres, institutes, laboratories, and programmes that include five medical centres and three Department of Energy National Laboratories.
Areas of study range from human cognition and the development of machine learning to the creation of disease-resistant crops and mitigation strategies for climate change, according to the UC website.
The UAW has taken pride in bargaining as a united front despite having separate contracts because there’s strength in numbers, UAW Local 5810 President Neal Sweeney said, adding: ‘Classes are being cancelled. Labs are shut down.’
One ongoing problem is the short length of job appointments, which can create hardship for teaching assistants and tutors who need to sign housing leases but have a limited work commitment, said UAW Local 2865 Vice President and doctoral student Kavitha Iyengar, 29, a Lansing native now living in Berkeley.
The UAW had nearly $841 million in strike funds, according to its August 31, 2022, financial report and union leaders have compared the strike fund to having a strong military when preparing for war.
Harley Shaiken, an emeritus professor at the University of California-Berkeley who specialises in labour and the global economy said he has seen tremendous sympathy for the striking workers.
The average pay for graduate students in STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math at these prestigious California schools ranges from $38,000 to $45,000 a year while their peers in other fields earn about $24,000 annually on average, he noted.
Shaiken said: ‘You cannot live on that. Here’s why we’re seeing … 48,000 people paralysing the university right now.
‘Rents have skyrocketed in California. For these students, many don’t have a decent place to live or have to sacrifice other essentials. Costs have gone up and wages won’t cover it. That is something that has gotten a lot of good people angry.
‘California is an expensive place to live. The grad students have been exploited for a long time.’
Support for the strike also comes from the California Labour Federation, which represents 1.2 million workers in manufacturing, retail, construction, health care, delivery and other industries. Many of their members have refused to cross academic worker picket lines.
Academic researchers at UC joined the UAW in 2018, getting their first contract in 2019. Academic student employees formed in the late 1990s and won their first contract in 2000. Postdoctoral researchers formed around 2008 and won their first contract in 2010. Student researchers won recognition from the University of California in late 2021, and this will be their first contract.