On April 3-4 hundreds of student workers across the University of California (UC) education system went on strike, protesting unfair labor treatment by UC administrations.
The strike was spearheaded by the United Auto Workers Local 2865 (UAW 2865) union, which represents over 13,000 student workers in the UC schools.
The UC administration has been negotiating with UAW 2865 about several different issues. Student workers complain that they are paid far less than their peers at comparable universities. They further assert that large class sizes lead to unreasonable work burdens. The union demands, as a result, a redrawing of the student worker contract.
Wednesday saw strikes at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, regarding problems specific to each campus. On Thursday, strikes spread across the entire UC system, including our very own UC Irvine (UCI).
Alex Jacoby, one of the strikers at UCI said that the purpose of the strikes is “to raise awareness and encourage UC administration to renegotiate a new contract. This would create a more robust academic climate for both undergraduate and graduate students. Currently, graduate students are forced to deal with sprawling class sizes, inadequate compensation, and poor child care. Last week’s strike was a part of a series of demonstrations across campuses statewide. As long as substantive gains remain intangible, collective action may be necessary to actuate change.”
UAW 2865 representatives say that the cause of the strike is intimidation practices by UC administrators. They cite threatening emails to potential strikers as well as UCLA management’s assertion that striking could endanger foreign students’ work visas.
The strikes do not appear to have been violent although 20 student picketers were arrested at UC Santa Cruz on grounds of traffic disruption. UAW 2865’s website claims that police brutality has been used in breaking up picketers.
Strikers include student teaching assistants and tutors, who are essential to much of the grading and personalized teaching at UC schools. Audrey Lai, a freshman at UCI, said, “If the TAs go on strike, there’s no class.” As a result, many classes have been disrupted, and administrators complain that the effects of the 2-day event may include millions of dollars in damages.
Although the immediate impact of UAW 2865’s strike was dramatic, UHS seniors heading to UC schools next year have nothing to fear. The collective action was organized and directed, and there are no proposed extensions to the two-day event. UAW 2865 even told workers in some departments to refrain from joining the strike, for fear that their absence would too significantly hinder students’ education.
It has yet to be seen whether or not this instance of collective action will actually help raise awareness for the student workers’ cause.
Written by JACOB FEUERBORN