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UC Academic Workers’ Strike is Limited to Santa Cruz So Far. Here’s Why

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The rolling walkout, in which campuses will be called on to join the picket line at times unbeknownst to the UC, is part of what the UAW 4811 union is calling a 'stand-up strike,' which the United Auto Workers rolled out against the Big Three automakers last year.  (Courtesy of UAW 4811)

About 1,500 graduate teaching assistants, researchers and others at UC Santa Cruz have walked off the job, the first and so far only campus to take action after the union representing academic workers across the University of California authorized a strike over the recent handling of pro-Palestinian protests on its campuses.

The rolling walkout, in which campuses will be called on to join the picket line at times unbeknownst to the UC, is part of what the UAW 4811 union representing the academic workers is calling a “stand-up strike.”  It’s a tactic that the local’s parent United Auto Workers union — which has roughly 100,000 members working for universities — rolled out against the Big Three automakers last year.

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It’s not clear how long it will last or when other campuses will be called on, but in a video last week calling on UC Santa Cruz student workers to pause all teaching and research work starting Monday, UAW 4811 President Rafael Jaime told others across the UC system to “stand by and prepare to stand up if your campus is called.”

Jess Fournier, the recording secretary for UAW 4811 at UC Santa Cruz, called the rolling strike a strategic move on the part of the union.

“This is very highly effective in the auto industry, and I think that one of the things that makes a strike in higher education unique is that often walking off the job for a single day does not create the kind of immediate stoppage in work [as in other industries],” they said.

Some campus groups, however, have called on the union to enact a much wider strike immediately. Rank and File for a Democratic Union, a group of UAW 4811 members at UCLA, released a statement on Monday urging the union to be “serious about causing ‘maximum disruption and chaos’” by calling a strike at their campus, which has the largest student population in the UC system.

“Our actions must not be delayed, tempered, or symbolic. We affirm our strike readiness by taking action NOW,” the group said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

The University of California Students for Justice in Palestine also urged the union to “immediately call a strike at all University of California Campuses” in a social media post.

“UAW 4811 leadership must support the demands of their rank-and-file workers and the broader grassroots movement for liberation,” the group said.

However, questions remain about wider support for the strike among the union representing UC academic workers. Although 79% of voting members supported authorizing a strike, voter turnout was low. Only about 19,780 of UAW 4811’s approximately 48,000 members cast ballots, compared with more than 36,000 academic workers participating in the union’s 2022 strike authorization vote during its collective bargaining process with the university system.

The University of California has also filed an unfair labor practice suit against the union, calling the strike illegal.

“UAW’s decision to strike over nonlabor issues violates the no-strike clause of their contracts with UC and sets a dangerous and far-reaching precedent that social, political and cultural issues — no matter how valid — that are not labor-related can support a labor strike,” Melissa Matella, associate vice president of systemwide labor relations, said in a statement on May 16.


UAW 4811 alleges that union members’ rights were violated by university leadership’s response to pro-Palestinian protest encampments, pointing to UCLA — where police did not intervene when counter-protesters attacked overnight, then violently broke up the encampment the following day, arresting more than 200 people — and to campus crackdowns at UC Irvine, where 47 protesters were arrested last week, and UC San Diego, where 64 people were arrested in early May.

“These are workplace issues in the sense that the University of California is bringing in police, allowing other people in the community to beat and mace workers in their place of work,” Fournier said.

“If they’re making threats about suspending or terminating workers without using the process that’s outlined in our contract, if they’re unilaterally locking workers out of their place of work on some of these campuses, all of these things are violations of our working conditions and the agreements we have with the university.”

“People are very fired up about this,” Fournier told KQED. “We’re prepared to stay out and do this for the long haul, as long as it takes for the UC to resolve these unfair labor practices.”

Scott Hernandez-Jason, UC Santa Cruz’s assistant vice chancellor of communications and marketing, said in a statement on Monday that the campus’ goal throughout the strike will be to “minimize the disruptive impact, especially given the many educational and research challenges that have affected students and researchers in recent years.”

He added that multiple campus entrances were obstructed on Monday. The university transitioned to remote instruction at least through Wednesday. Many UC campuses, including Santa Cruz, have about a month left until the current academic term wraps up in mid-June.

Fournier told KQED that workers at Santa Cruz are prepared to picket at the campus’ two entrances daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and continue a complete work stoppage until their demands are met.

“We’re ready to keep going for the long haul,” Fournier said. “We can imagine that if this does keep going, and the UC continues to be intransigent, more and more campuses are going to be out there with us.”

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