Student workers strike statewide against alleged unfair labor practices by UC

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Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Student academic employees, professors and undergraduate students stationed themselves in solidarity at the entrance of Sproul Plaza on the second and final day of a statewide strike against alleged unfair labor practices.

The statewide protest began Wednesday after a strike call was issued by the UC Student Workers Union, United Auto Workers Local 2865, a union made up of 12,000 teaching assistants, readers and graders across the UC system. The union has been heavily negotiating with the university on issues such as class size, wages, undocumented graduate student compensation and family benefits. They now contend that their demands have been met with intimidation.

Throughout Thursday, chants of, “Hey hey, ho ho, intimidation has got to go!” echoed across Sproul Plaza — a reaction to what the union calls unfair labor practices at the hands of UC administrators.

“The strike is not about the contract,” said Robert Cavooris, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student and union representative. “Workers don’t feel safe exercising their rights — that is why we’re striking.”

UAW Local 2865 Unit Chair Munira Lokhandwala said the strike is in response to  “unlawful” videotaping of student protesters by UC police and “intimidating emails” sent by administrators delineating consequences for participation in strikes, such as “illegal” threats made by the UCLA management warning international student workers that striking could jeopardize the status of their work visas.

On Wednesday, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz struck against campus-specific grievances. Early that morning, 20 undergraduate and graduate students striking at UC Santa Cruz were arrested, according to the Los Angeles Times. There were no arrests at UC Berkeley.

On Thursday, protesters at all UC campuses denounced what they felt to be systemwide misconduct, according to Cavooris.

UC spokesperson Shelly Meron called the acts of intimidation a new complaint brought forward just this week and could not comment on “unproven allegations.”

“We’re in the middle of negotiations for the contract, so it’s disappointing that they called for a strike,” Meron said. “It doesn’t resolve the issues on the table.”

After Wednesday, the campus contacted 90 percent of the campus’s top-10 departments to gauge how dramatically the strike shut down campus. Of those who responded, there were no reports of absences due to the strike. This excludes cases in which instructors made approved arrangements with their departments to meet their teaching obligations by holding class at alternate times, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

Roughly 400 strikers wielded their picket signs on both Wednesday and Thursday. Graduate student instructors across multiple disciplines — from the humanities to the hard sciences — represented their departments at the picket lines.

Ben Keller, a graduate-student researcher in electrical engineering and the union’s steward for his department, said that though there were fewer hard-sciences graduate students at the picket lines than other departments, all departments were standing in unity.

Keller added that because many graduate students in the sciences are generally funded for their research contributions more so than teaching, concerns raised by GSIs are not immediately relevant to GSRs, in part because the university does not recognize GSRs as workers with the right to collectively bargain.

“In my experience, there’s a quieter culture in the sciences and their sections, as advisers are reluctant to cancel their labs,” Keller said. “Scientists may be quieter, but we support the strike.”

Contact Bo Kovitz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beau_etc.