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'The Fight Is Not Over': UC Postdocs, Researchers Back at Work After Ratifying Contract, but 36,000 Academic Workers Still on Strike

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people march and hold signs reading 'UAW on strike unfair labor practice'
Staff members demonstrate at the UCSF Mission Bay campus on Nov. 15, 2022, during a strike among some 48,000 academic workers across all 10 University of California campuses. Following an agreement ratified on Friday, two of the four bargaining units on strike — postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers — were back at work on all 10 campuses on Monday.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers were back at work Monday at all 10 of the University of California system’s campuses after ratifying a labor agreement, but thousands of other graduate students remain on strike.

The five-year agreement ratified Friday provides pay hikes of up to 20%, increased family leave, child care subsidies and lengthened appointments to ensure job security, according to a statement from United Auto Workers Local 5810. The agreement was ratified by a wide margin, with a final count of 89.4% of postdocs and 79.5% of academic researchers voting yes in favor of ratification, according to a statement from United Auto Workers locals 5810 and 2865.

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The postdoctoral employees and academic researchers make up about 12,000 of the 48,000 union members who on Nov. 14 walked off the job and onto picket lines. Approximately 36,000 graduate student teaching assistants, tutors and researchers are bargaining separately and remain on strike, calling for increased pay and benefits.

The past week has brought "a lot of emotions," said Evan Holloway, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, San Francisco and a member of the bargaining team for postdoctoral employees. While Holloway returned to work at his lab Monday, he spent that same night in Zoom meetings with members of other bargaining units, he said, sharing information and getting updates on how best to support those who are still striking.

"I'm feeling really pleased with ratifying our contract and closing that chapter for postdocs, and also feeling hopeful that grad workers will get a contract soon. So it's back to work, but it's not a return to quote-unquote 'normal.' Because the fight is not over," Holloway said.


On Friday, the university and the union announced that they would enter mediation after failing to reach an agreement with two of the four bargaining units involved in the strike. A timeline for the mediation has not yet been set, but the parties announced Monday that Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg will serve as mediator.

“Darrell Steinberg has developed a reputation as a fair-minded public servant and skilled negotiator who brings people together. I believe Mayor Steinberg is uniquely positioned to help facilitate a fair and reasonable contract that allows us to support our students as they work towards their degrees,” said Michael V. Drake, president of the University of California, in a statement. “Our faculty, students, and staff have shouldered the burden of a strike for far too long. We all know the tremendous impact our graduate student employees make, and it is my hope that with the mayor’s help we can quickly secure a fair deal that honors those contributions.”

Academic workers say they were left with no other choice but to strike to demand wages necessary to keep up with high rent in cities such as Berkeley, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Union leaders have called the strike "historic," and described it as the largest work stoppage in the history of American higher education. It is being closely watched and could have a ripple effect at schools across the U.S. In the past few days alone, Holloway said he's heard of academic workers at other universities reaching out for details of the UC postdocs' new contract, or entering into negotiations in a way that shows the immediate impact of the strike.

"My understanding is that both management and academic worker unions at other universities have been paying attention to our struggle, to what we stand for and what we won," he said. "So I do believe that there has already been an impact — definitely locally. But people on both sides are also paying attention across the country."

This story includes reporting from KQED's Emma Silvers and The Associated Press.

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