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UC Santa Cruz Academic Workers to Strike Over University's Treatment of Pro-Palestinian Protesters

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Two college-age students hold up signs that say 'Divest' and 'stop bombing Gaza.'
Protesters at UC Berkeley call on the university to divest from companies supporting Israel and to support a call for a cease-fire in Gaza. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

Union leaders on Friday called on academic workers and researchers at UC Santa Cruz to walk off the job starting Monday, which is likely to be the first of a series of strike actions from union workers at the University of California campuses.

The strike announcement comes just days after members of UAW 4811, which represents about 48,000 graduate students and academic workers across the University of California system, voted to authorize a rolling strike in response to the university system’s recent handling of pro-Palestinian protests on campuses.

“We’re now calling on the first UC campus to stand up,” UAW 4811 President Rafael Jaime said in a video, urging all UCSC members in the union to stop any academic teaching and research work starting Monday. He did not say how long they would be on strike, though it could last through June when the school term ends.

“And for everyone else across the state, stand by and prepare to stand up if your campus is called,” said Jaime, who is also a Ph.D. candidate in UCLA’s English department, at the end of the video.

While union leaders have said they plan to “maximize chaos” through which campuses are called on to strike when, it’s unclear whether other campuses will soon follow UC Santa Cruz.

Union members are alleging their rights have been violated in the crackdowns on pro-Palestinian protests on campuses. That includes at UCLA, where police earlier this month declined to intervene when counter-demonstrators attacked pro-Palestinian protesters but then proceeded to violently break up the same encampment and arrest more than 200 activists less than two days later. Most recently, another 47 pro-Palestinian protesters at an encampment at UC Irvine were arrested this week.

“The university has committed a number of unfair labor practices. At the heart of them is our right to free speech and peaceful protest,” said Tanzil Chowdhury, a graduate student instructor at UC Berkeley, who is on the union’s executive board. “We’ve seen that the university has used repressive and violent tactics to infringe on our right to free speech and the health and safety of our members.”

Pro-Palestinian encampments are still in place at UC Santa Cruz and several other UC campuses.

At UC Berkeley, however, school officials took a notably different tack, refraining from involving law enforcement in dealing with a large pro-Palestinian encampment in front of Sproul Plaza that remained in place for nearly a month. Earlier this week, organizers began dismantling the encampment following a meeting and agreement with school officials. UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said, in a letter (PDF), that the university would take steps to review its investments to make sure they align with its “core values” and also pledged to develop a transparent process for assessing whether any of its global exchange and internship programs are out of step with the UC Anti-Discrimination Policy.

The strike authorization, sanctioning the union executive board to call on individual campuses to strike between now and June 30, passed with 79% of the vote, according to union representatives.

“Thousands of our members came out to vote,” Chowdhury said. “It’s a show of just how much energy and support there is.”

UC officials maintain that such a strike, however, would be unlawful because it would violate the existing contract with the union — and have warned that anyone who participates will face repercussions.

The University of California also filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the union on Friday.

“Given UAW’s publicly stated position and the subsequent potential impacts on our students and campuses, we are forced to take decisive action to ensure we can continue to fulfill our fundamental missions of teaching, research and public service,” Melissa Matella, UC’s associate vice president for systemwide labor relations, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Academic Senate has also provided faculty members with guidance to minimize course disruption (PDF), according to a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President.

Organizers and union leaders said the UC system could stop these ongoing strikes by addressing their concerns.

“One of the ways that the university can achieve that is by choosing to de-escalate and instead negotiate over the urgent moral concerns that many of the protesters have brought,” Chowdhury said.


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