California reaches agreement with some striking workers

Tentative pact covers postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers, but leaves 300,000-student system in turmoil as talks continue with graduate students in teaching and research roles

November 29, 2022
Source: Celeste Basken
Student-teachers strike at University of California

The University of California system has reached a tentative contract agreement with two of its four striking worker groups, offering unprecedented salary hikes but without yet ending its jarring 10-campus walkout.

The pending agreement covers 7,000 postdoctoral scholars and 5,000 academic researchers, or about a quarter of the 48,000 striking workers – mostly graduate students in teaching and research roles – who began their walkout on 14 November against the 300,000-student system.

The 12,000 workers in the settlement said they would remain out of work in support of the 19,000 teaching assistants and 17,000 student researchers still seeking a new contract.

The California system said the agreement, once ratified by the workers, would provide average salary increases of 8 per cent for postdoctoral scholars and about 4 per cent for the academic researchers. The union representing the workers, an academic division of the United Auto Workers (UAW), said most of the postdoctoral scholars would receive salary increases of 20 per cent to 23 per cent by October 2023, and that a “typical academic researcher” would see a 29 per cent salary increase over the five years of the contract.

Both sides described the terms as record pay increases, in response to worker demands that their pay rates are not keeping pace with inflation, especially in college communities with sharply rising housing costs.

The agreements, said Letitia Silas, the California system’s executive director of labour relations, “uphold our tradition of supporting these employees with compensation and benefits packages that are among the best in the country”.

The terms, said the union, UAW Local 5810, provide “substantial wage increases that address cost of living”. The agreement also provides the postdoctoral scholars with increased parental and family leave, childcare subsidies, transport benefits and job security commitments.

The union, in its statement, also held out hope that the breakthrough could stimulate movement in talks with the teaching assistants and student researchers. “We expect that they will make serious proposals this week,” the union said of the university system.

The breakthrough comes in the final week of classes for California’s autumn semester. With final exams scheduled for next week, the strike has created for students a disorienting atmosphere of cancelled classes, absent teachers and tutors, and anxieties over how they should negotiate on-campus picket lines.

At least 300 UC faculty have signed a pledge to observe the strike by not holding their own classes.

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