Can the UC Strike Remake Higher Education?Historians in the News
tags: strikes, University of California, labor, academic labor
As a strike of 48,000 academic workers at the University of California—the largest labor action of the year—stretches into a third week, other universities are watching closely. The outcome in California, experts say, could shape a new model for higher education across the country.
The strike, which began Nov. 14, has led to canceled classes and closed labs as final exams loom at the end of the semester, but union leaders say they’re still at odds with university management. Across the system’s ten campuses, postdoctoral scholars, teaching assistants, and graduate student researchers have walked out. They’re represented by the United Auto Workers union, which says the university has engaged in “unfair labor practices” by implementing changes related to compensation during bargaining and failing to provide information related to bargaining topics—a claim the university disputes.
And while workers argue that a school with an $18 billion endowment can afford to pay them better, the university says its salary offers are better than those at other public universities and are meant only to cover part-time work.
“We are overworked and severely underpaid. We earn poverty wages,” says Rafael Jaime, a 33-year-old Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles and the president of United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents 19,000 student workers participating in the strike. “What we’re really seeing is a crisis in academia.”
The strike has garnered support from many University of California faculty members and lawmakers, and some undergraduate students and faculty have held rallies in support of the strike. James Vernon—a history professor who chairs the faculty association at the University of California, Berkeley—has canceled his classes in support of the strike.
“The system is broken, graduate school should be affordable for everyone, and only this labor movement can fix it,” he said in a tweet, urging faculty members to cancel classes “and support our graduate students so one day they can do your job.”