Following a vote by graduate workers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 48,000 staff members began to strike on Nov. 14. This has now become the largest strike to occur in the history of higher education in the United States, with negotiations occurring across four separate branches of employees, according to the United Auto Workers (UAW).
The Guardian reports that one teaching assistant, Bernardo Remollono, had lived in his car throughout the 2018-2019 school year due to low wages. However, Remollono is not alone in the call for higher pay amongst members of the UCLA community. The strike follows 20 claims of unfair labor practices filed against the campus, and failed attempts at prior negotiations. However, the University of California denies any allegations from the UAW of unlawful practices.
One of the largest concerns for the unions are wage gaps as the increased cost of living has left many struggling to pay their bills. ABC 7 writes that “Union officials say some of the employees make as little as $24,000 per year.” Those employed as grad workers are requesting a minimum pay of $54,000 annually and postdoctoral scholars are fighting for $70,000. This serves to ensure the request of the UAW stating, “no bargaining unit member pays more than 30% of their salary toward their housing costs,” per the University of California’s website.
The Guardian mentions one student who is now commuting four hours a day in an attempt to make enough to afford rent in Sacramento, California. This includes train fare which has led to workers petitioning for free passes to public transportation.
UCLA has a page dedicated to strike updates and information regarding the strike including information for instructors at the university. The UCLA Academic Senate wrote to the faculty on Nov. 9 stating, “Graduate students play an essential role in research and teaching at the University of California, and the Academic Senate has recognized that the current graduate funding model is broken.” The UC is currently proposing a three percent initial increase to wages and experienced-based raises that would lead to 6.8% increase in pay for post doctoral graduates.
The Washington Post states that the strike threatens not only classes but also research programs currently underway. To combat this, the UCLA website features a section on creating a forum to keep students updated on any changes to scheduling.
These events follow many different changes to labor practices following the pandemic. The Washington Post writes that “workers have scored historic union victories at Amazon, Starbucks and Apple this year.” There have also been strikes among many educators at public schools such as a five day strike which occurred on Sept. 14 at Seattle public schools.
There is no clear end to the current strike across the University of California’s campuses, however negotiations are still underway and set to continue across the following weeks.