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UC Sues Academic Workers Union to Halt Pro-Palestinian Solidarity Strikes

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Members of United Auto Workers Local 4811 strike at UCLA as academic workers and supporters walked off the job on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The University of California on Wednesday announced that it is suing the union representing its academic workers, a move that follows two failed attempts to have state labor regulators stop thousands of graduate teaching assistants, researchers and others from striking.

In its suit filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court, the university system alleges that the United Auto Workers Local 4811, which represents 48,000 academic workers across the UC, is violating the no-strike clause of its contract. The union has said its rolling walkouts are in response to campuses’ handling of pro-Palestinian protests and the police actions against them, leading UC officials to label the strike a political action, not a labor one.

“The blatant breach of the parties’ no-strike clauses by UAW will continue to cause irreversible harm to the University as it will disrupt the education of thousands of students in the form of canceled classes and delayed grades,” said Melissa Matella, associate vice president for systemwide labor relations, in a statement. “The breach of contract also endangers life-saving research in hundreds of laboratories across the university and will also cause the university substantial monetary damages.”

Striking UAW workers have blocked entrances to hospitals and childcare centers, caused disruption to operations at UC Santa Cruz and barricaded themselves in buildings at UCLA, according to UC officials.

Rafael Jaime, a Ph.D. student at UCLA and president of UAW 4811, accused the UC system of ignoring the authority of the California Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, which on Monday declined for the second time to rule the strikes illegal.


“UC continues to shirk accountability for the violence it has caused and allowed against union members and the campus community,” Jaime said. “UC should respect the law, return to mediation, and resolve their serious unfair labor practices instead of continuing to insist that the rules do not apply to it.”

About 1,500 academic workers at UC Santa Cruz walked out last month, the first campus to go on strike after an authorization vote by union members. Soon after, UCLA and UC Davis workers joined the strike. UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego workers followed suit on Monday, and UC Irvine joined the strike on Wednesday.

Workers want to restore their “fundamental right to protest,” UAW 4811 wrote on its website. UC has used force on student and worker protesters, they wrote, including allowing police to give protesters “serious injuries,” including burns and nerve damage, in an effort to clear demonstrators from public areas and an empty building.

This week’s decision by PERB found the UC did not demonstrate “sufficient grounds” for bringing its complaint, the second time in recent weeks that it declined to order an immediate end to the strike.

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J. Felix De La Torre, PERB’s general counsel, told KQED that the UC’s civil complaint could have been filed with the court without first filing an unfair practice charge with PERB unless the UC’s contract with the union has a binding arbitration provision. If so, the court will send them to arbitration.

After PERB’s decision, Matella had said the UC would elevate its claim in court. In the UC suit, Matella references contract clauses that claim academic staffers cannot strike.

One such clause reads, “The UAW, on behalf of its officers, agents, and members agrees there shall be no strikes, including sympathy strikes, stoppages, interruptions of work, or other concerted activities which interfere directly or indirectly with University operations during the life of this Agreement or any written extension thereof.”

Some actions by protesting workers went beyond taking part in encampments and directly interrupted classes, Matella said.

At UC Davis on May 28, for instance, Matella said protesters carrying UAW signs entered classrooms and “were disruptive,” leading instructors to cancel classes, some of which were taking exams. In at least one classroom, protesters “attempted to shame students and instructors into joining the protest,” she said.

The exact number of classes interrupted or canceled by academic staffers isn’t known, Matella said, because they don’t inform campus administrators.

“They just do it, again increasing the uncertainty and adding to the chaos of their unlawful strike,” Matella said.

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