Some workers could see a pay rise of up to 66% if the University of California and the striking unions reach a deal

Some workers could see a pay rise of up to 66% if the University of California and the striking unions reach a deal

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  • December 17, 2022
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Striking UC workers gather outside the UCLA Luskin Center

Striking UC workers gather outside the UCLA Luskin Center 01:49

The University of California on Friday struck a deal for higher wages and benefits with about 36,000 graduate student teaching assistants and other academic staff that could potentially end a month-long strike — the largest of its kind in the country — in the respected state system.

The strike disrupted classes on all 10 campuses in the university system. The agreement has yet to be ratified before the strike officially ends.

The bargaining units said some workers could see pay rises of up to 66% over the next two years. The contracts would run until May 31, 2025.

“In addition to incredible wage increases, the tentative agreements also include expanded benefits for parents, greater rights for international workers, protections from bullying and harassment, accessibility improvements, job protections and sustainable transit benefits,” Tarini Hardikar, a member of the UC Berkeley union negotiating team, said in a press release on Friday.

The pay rises and performance gains could have an impact beyond California. For several decades, colleges and universities have increasingly relied on faculty and graduate student staff to conduct teaching and research previously undertaken by tenured faculty—but without the same pay and benefits.

“These agreements will position our graduate student staff among the most well-supported in public higher education,” Michael V. Drake, president of the University of California, said in a news release Friday. “If approved, these contracts will recognize her critical work and allow us to continue to attract the best academic talent from across California and around the world.”

The 32-day UC strike is being closely watched across the country, in part because it is the largest strike by academic staff in higher education, said William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York.

The UC strike, like the others, “provides evidence that strikes are very powerful tools to achieve goals,” he said.

The deal comes weeks after the UC system struck a similar deal with postdocs and academic researchers who make up about 12,000 of the 48,000 union members who walked out of work and picketed on Nov. 14. This agreement will increase wages by up to 29%. and are offering more family leave, childcare grants and extended appointments to ensure job security, according to a statement from United Auto Workers Local 5810.

The academics had argued they couldn’t afford to live at current salaries in cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and Berkeley, where housing costs are skyrocketing.

The strike is notable for its size and scale, but also for what it could mean for other universities, said Tim Cain, associate professor of higher education at the University of Georgia. If college graduates and researchers ratify the treaties, it could lead to similar changes at colleges that compete with UC or where college graduates organize unions.

National unionization also stems from long-term changes in America’s universities, which increasingly rely on graduate students to teach courses and do other jobs traditionally performed by tenured faculty.

“There is a fundamental shift in who is doing the academic work in higher education,” Cain said. Wages for graduate students have not grown over time, he added, and many face increasingly fierce competition for full-time faculty positions.

The strike came at a time of increased industrial action across the country, not just in higher education but also among workers at Starbucks, Amazon and elsewhere, and a wave of union organizing efforts among student workers at other universities.

Just this year, alumni from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Clark University, Fordham University, New Mexico State University, Washington State University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute voted to organize.

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