On the first day of a two-day strike, hundreds of student academic employees and their supporters protested alleged unfair intimidation practices by the university by skipping classes, chanting and picketing on Sproul Plaza.
Students and faculty joined forces with members of the United Auto Workers Local 2865 to “stand up, fight back” against the administration’s alleged workplace intimidation and labor violations. The union represents about 12,000 student academic employees, including graduate student instructors, readers and tutors.
Their complaints stem from what they consider intimidation practices at the hands of the university, such as UC police committing what the union deems “unlawful” videotaping of student protesters. Protesters say the administration intimidated workers not to strike over their frustrations with current contract negotiations — which began in July 2013 — regarding class sizes, wages, undocumented graduate student compensation and family benefits.
“It really makes you think: What does (the university) see as the goal of education?” said Krista Cortes, a first year doctoral student at the UC Berkeley School of Education and one of the head stewards of the local union. “We’re just out here because we want them to recognize the fact that they’ve treated us unfairly.”
As early as 8 a.m. Wednesday, protesters gathered on Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue to form the first of four picket lines for the day with each line representing a different academic department.
By noon, a rally was held on the steps of Sproul Hall, where various speakers such as GSIs, undergraduates and members from different workers’ groups spoke to a crowd of hundreds, calling for the end of university intimidation.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” said UC Berkeley junior Spencer Pritchard, calling the university’s intimidation tactics “silly.” “Especially regarding class sizes, working conditions and all the other demands they have outside just the learning environment is just really important.”
ASUC President DeeJay Pepito sent out a press release backing the strike, saying the university has no right to “target the very workers who teach our classes, conduct our research and keep our university running.”
Austin Pritzkat, UC Berkeley junior who is running for ASUC Senate and Pepito’s chief of staff, spoke at the rally and later encouraged students to strike with student workers, saying students “have to be willing to sacrifice” for the future of the public university.
On the first day of the strike at UC Santa Cruz, 20 undergraduate and graduate students were arrested for charges including failing to disperse and being a pedestrian in a roadway, according to the Los Angeles Times. As of 4:23 p.m., only about half of those arrested were released.
The union confirmed that no arrests were made at UC Berkeley. Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore noted the possibility of some canceled classes but no official reports.