UC faculty urges Newsom to support striking academics
- US News
- December 3, 2022
- No Comment
More than 1,000 University of California faculty members are pleading with Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators to intervene in the ongoing faculty workers strike and urge UC executives to heed union demands.
In a letter signed by faculty from all 10 UC campuses and during a Friday afternoon rally at UCLA, the group urged Newsom to urge university leaders to work “in good faith” with the United Auto Workers, the union that represents the 36,000 teaching assistants represents, to negotiate , tutors, graduate students and post-docs who have not reached an agreement with the system.
As the strike enters its fourth week on Monday — after canceled classes, reduced final exams and concerns over semester grading — the letter represents the strongest yet public support from faculty members for striking graduate students, teaching assistants and tutors. These staff hold class discussions, run labs , grade assignments, administer exams, conduct research, and perform other roles.
The union is demanding significant wage increases to help workers afford housing in the high-price areas where most UC campuses are located, as well as more support for childcare, health care, transportation and international students. The employees said the system’s current wages and benefits are “unaffordable” and detrimental to their mental health and their ability to teach and research.
UC’s offers don’t even come close to meeting demands on key pay issues, but university officials said they were “fair, reasonable and responsive to the union’s priorities.”
The faculty wants Newsom and the legislature to “reinvest” “in” California’s “flagship educational institution” and draw from the state coffers to pay for raises and other benefits.
A Newsom government spokesman would not comment on the details of the negotiations with UC leaders, but did point to a pre-existing state commitment to increase funding for higher education.
Last year’s state budget included 5% increases in base funding for UC over five years in return for “clear commitments” from school administrators on access, affordability and other goals. The state has a similar arrangement with the California State University and community college systems.
“The state’s commitment to continued predictable increases in base budget funding precedes this recent action by some faculty groups,” said HD Palmer, spokesman for the state Treasury Department, on Friday. “At a time when we are trying to fill a budget gap estimated at $25 billion, this is a funding commitment for increased support for UC that is unmatched in virtually any other aspect of the budget.”
Newsom is expected to release its proposed budget for fiscal 2023-24 in January. With a recession looming and the state facing a potential $25 billion budget deficit, the prospect of significant spending increases is unlikely.
In a statement, Ryan King, a UC spokesman, said the system is grateful to Newsom and the Legislature for their “continued support.” The statement did not directly address faculty members’ calls for the state to allocate more money to the system.
“We recognize the challenges the strike has created for our faculty and appreciate their continued commitment to the education and support of our students in these circumstances,” said King. “We remain focused on working with the UAW to secure fair contracts.”
Faculty members stressed on Friday — the last day of classes in the fall quarter — that the stakes are high.
Faculty members stood on steps in the middle of the UCLA campus, facing pickets and holding a banner that read, “We stand by our students.”
Anna Markowitz, assistant professor of education, said graduate students are critical to their work and the experience of undergraduate students. She has felt guilty about recruiting graduate students because she knew they would face financial problems.
“Ever since I got here, I’ve been aware that they were being paid a poverty wage and that the work I asked them to do wasn’t giving them a wage that was earning them enough to live safely,” she said.
Markowitz said she will not submit her students’ grades for that quarter until the strike is over. This would not harm the students, she said, sending a message to UC that “we will not be carrying on as usual”.
Graeme Blair, associate professor of political science at UCLA, said teaching assistants and postdocs work long hours, well beyond what UC administrators say they do.
“One of UC’s most venomous arguments is that student workers only work part-time. It’s a misdirection,” he said. “From meeting graduate students every day…they work 24/7.”
In the letter to Newsom and state legislators, faculty members wrote that not providing higher wages and other benefits to academic staff would undermine UC’s ability to attract high-caliber scholars.
“Neither UC’s existing wages, nor the currently proposed increase, are competitive with peer institutions, threatening UC’s ability to attract the best and brightest and undermining its contributions to Californians,” the letter said, citing research graduating from the system lags behind those of other schools.
In 2019, a group of UC administrators and graduate students recognized the need to strengthen financial support for college graduates and provide more support to address “tremendous challenges in finding affordable housing.”
Two of the bargaining units, representing postdocs and researchers, reached a tentative agreement with UC this week, but workers from those units have not returned to campus in solidarity with the 36,000 workers who continue to strike. The postdocs and scientists make up about 12,000 of the 48,000 union members. They say the tentative deal will raise the minimum annual salary for their full-time positions from about $55,000 to $70,000 or more, with various adjustments through the end of the five-year contract — including a $12,000 increase through October 2023.
After the rally, academic staff and faculty members marched to a faculty building and chanted, “Get up, come down, LA is a union town.”
On the 19th day of the UC strike, UCLA academic staff stand outside an on-campus faculty building and shout, “Get up, come down, LA is a union town.” pic.twitter.com/gtZaiV0uUG
— Debbie Truong (@debbietruong) December 2, 2022
Among the pickets was Jacqueline Perez, a third-year graduate student studying social psychology. Perez is expected to work full-time as an undergraduate researcher on her own studies of how socioeconomic adversity affects romantic relationships and family processes.
But the 24-year-old said she had to take on an additional part-time job as a teaching assistant to be able to afford rent and basic groceries. She takes home about $1,900 a month from her position as an undergraduate researcher and $1,100 a month as a teaching assistant, a job that typically takes up to 20 hours a week.
“Just knowing that we have people in positions of power who have a lot more influence and authority than we do, standing behind us… that really means everything,” Perez said.