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Why are 48,000 University of California employees going on strike?

The largest strike this year is taking place in California with 48,000 academic workers from the state university system taking to the picket line.

Picket lines at all 10 University of California campuses
Mario TamaGetty

Research and learning in the 10 campuses that make up the University of California system has come to a grinding halt. The vast majority of the 48,000 academic workers from the state university system took to the picket line demanding better pay and benefits.

The strike is the largest this year and according to the academics’ union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), the largest academic strike in higher education in US history. Authorization for the multi-unit strike was approved by 98 percent of the 36,558 total votes “far and away the largest and most decisive strike authorization votes ever taken by Academic Workers in the US.”

What are the University of California employees demands?

The “biggest sticking point” for the UAW and the teaching assistants, researchers, postdoctoral scholars, tutors and graders that it represents centers on compensation. The union is asking the University of California leadership for a minimum annually salary of $54,000 for all grad workers and $70,000 for postdocs.

That would be a boost of around 14 percent to what they receive now. Additionally, workers are calling for annual cost-of-living adjustments and experience-based increases in contract negotiations.

The University of California employees are also asking for $2,000 a month childcare subsidy, expanded paid parental leave as well as public transit passes.

The wage increases and additional benefits are needed, the UC employees says, to meet the high cost of living in California, especially rising housing costs that force many to take long commutes. They claim that the scholars are being pushed out of academia due to the inequitable working conditions.

The University of California system has made a counter-offer

The university system is offering incremental pay increases according to a statement to ABC. Postdocs would get an 8 percent increase the first year, then five percent the next and every subsequent year 3 percent. Graduate student researchers would get the biggest hike of up to 26 percent, followed by as much as 10 percent the second year and then 3 percent thereafter.

For other positions, such as instructors and teaching fellows, they would receive between 4 percent and 8 percent increases. Under the university system’s offer hourly-paid workers would receive 5 percent to 8 percent boost to wages.

As for childcare, the university negotiators are offering reimbursements of between $2,500 and $4,050 a year along with some transit subsidies.

Not enough to cover expenses UC workers say

“The University’s proposals do not adequately address the affordable housing crisis confronting our members,” Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 2865 said in a statement. “UC also wants to limit and control our earnings by calling some of it ‘student support,’ which would block a portion of our pay from being covered by our union contract.”

The current salaries that UC employees earn has many of them experiencing rent burden. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines rent burden as “individuals who pay more than 30% of their pre-tax income towards housing costs.” According to a UAW membership survey “92% of Graduate Workers and 61% of Postdoctoral Scholars are rent-burdened.” Over 40 percent report spending over half of their income on rent.

As for the proposed annual stipend for childcare, workers say it would barely cover one month.


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