On the Picket Line

UC graduate student workers end strike, make gains

By Deborah Liatos
January 16, 2023

LOS ANGELES — Some 36,000 University of California graduate student workers across the state organized by the United Auto Workers ratified a new union contract Dec. 23, ending their strike. It was the nation’s largest strike to date of academic workers. About 12,000 striking workers settled earlier.

The 17,000 members of the union’s Student Researchers United unit backed the agreement by 68.4%, winning their first U.C. contract after forming a union last year. UAW Local  2865, which represents 19,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student academic workers, approved the agreement by 61.6%.

At the same time, there was a division in the vote on different state campuses. Teaching assistants and other academic workers overwhelmingly voted against the proposed contract at U.C. Merced, U.C. Santa Cruz and U.C. Santa Barbara while those at the other seven campuses approved it. The majority of graduate student researchers at Merced and Santa Cruz also voted no.

“The dramatic improvements to our salaries and working conditions are the result of tens of thousands of workers striking together in unity,” said Rafael Jaime, UAW Local 2865 president.

The debate over whether to ratify included opposition to a higher pay raise being given to those at Bay Area and Los Angeles campuses as well different assessments of what could be won by holding out longer.

For academic student employees the new contract will raise minimum pay from about $23,250 to about $34,000 for nine months of part-time work by Oct. 1, 2024. The rate at U.C. campuses in Berkeley, San Francisco and Los Angeles would be $36,500.

They also won improvements in financial support for child care.

Union members who voted against the contract opposed the two-tier wage structure. “That’s not something a union should stand for,” Claudia Madrigal Johnson, a first-year PhD student at U.C. Merced told the Los Angeles Times.

Strikers explain that many had been paying over 50% of their income in rent and they work many more hours than are scheduled without getting additional pay.

Enrique Olivares Pesante, a UCLA Ph.D. student in English and teaching assistant, told the Times that he voted in favor of the agreement even though the workers didn’t win everything they wanted.

He said the strike has energized student academic workers across the U.C. system who plan to prepare for the next round of negotiations when the new contract expires in 2025. “Getting this contract wasn’t the end of it,” Olivares Pesante said.