10K UC student researchers authorize a strike to recognize their union

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Gmartineau86/Creative Commons
The UC system has not recognized Student Researchers United-UAW, a union comprising UC student researchers. To gain recognition, the union's members voted to authorize a strike. (Photo by Gmartineau86 under CC BY SA 4.0.)

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More than 10,000 UC student researchers, or SRs, voted in favor of authorizing a strike in the fight for recognition of their union, Student Researchers United-UAW, or SRU-UAW.

Despite SRU-UAW being certified as a union by the California Public Employment Relations Board in August, the university has yet to recognize the union. The delay in recognition means SRs cannot engage in collective bargaining with the university, which would otherwise allow them to negotiate improvements in their working environment, according to the SRU-UAW website.

Such improvements could include higher wages and protections against harassment and discrimination, the website notes.

Ximena Anleu Gil, UC Davis graduate SR in the plant biology department, said she has been organizing for SRU-UAW since early 2020.

As an international student from Guatemala, Anleu Gil allegedly works without a contract. Without a union, the university is the sole arbitrator of her protections and working conditions, according to Anleu Gil.

“The UC is just slowing down … or kind of like putting an obstacle in front of us from talking about housing or protections for international students,” Anleu Gil said. “I think that the best outcome of course is a union, a strong union for student researchers and by student researchers. We form the backbone of the UC’s research mission.”

Though 97.5% of SRs who participated in the strike authorization vote said yes, it does not mean the union will immediately go on strike, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory graduate SR assistant Kayla Currier.

Two representatives from each UC campus and Berkeley Lab will make up the union’s strike committee. They will decide whether the circumstances call for a strike and will determine when said event would take place, according to the SRU-UAW website.

Currently, there are no dates planned, Anleu Gil said.

Anleu Gil noted, however, that the overwhelming support displayed by SRs for a strike says a lot about the union.

“It puts us in a really powerful position,” Anleu Gil said. “We’re all committed to staying united and fighting together to really see how we can improve our working conditions and our lives. It obviously shows we’re not going away. Our power is only growing.”

UC Office of the President spokesperson Ryan King said in an email they support including university-employed graduate SRs in a bargaining unit but dispute the inclusion of other SRs who have “no employment relationship with the University.”

Such SRs include fellows and trainees who receive funding to participate in research that will help them toward their graduate or professional program of study or those who receive academic credit, King added in the email.

“We are committed to coming to a resolution with the union and are currently engaged in ongoing, good-faith discussions with the UAW and the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) regarding the composition of this new bargaining unit,” King said in the email. “UC hopes to resolve this matter in a timely fashion so that good-faith negotiations on the terms and conditions of employment with this new bargaining unit can commence.”

The strike authorization vote followed a Nov. 18 letter of support for the union signed by 49 California state legislators to UC President Michael Drake. Led by Assmbleymember Buffy Wicks, legislators urged the university to recognize the SRU-UAW.

The letter cited SB 201, a law passed in 2017 that extended collective bargaining rights to all UC SRs.

“We love our research and we don’t want to go on strike, but the UC hasn’t really given us a choice,” Currier said. “We are prepared to do what it takes.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.