‘Going to escalate’: Graduate student workers protest employment policies

Photo of a UAW protest
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
UAW is currently bargaining for four potential contracts with the university, which are meant to address paid family leave, rent burden, incidents with abusers and increased fees for international students.

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Hundreds of graduate student workers, represented by the United Auto Workers, or UAW, union protested UC employment policies on the UC Berkeley campus Tuesday.

Protests were held across all UC campuses, calling for improved treatment in the workplace, increased wages and relief from rent burden, according to UAW’s website. Representing more than 40,000 UC employees, UAW is the largest union within the UC system. The march began at Sather Tower and ended at the intersection of Euclid and Hearst Avenue, where protestors sat in a circle in the middle of the intersection, blocking it to traffic as they chanted for increased wages and better working conditions.

Tanzil Chowdhury, a second-year graduate student on campus and a research assistant at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, expressed the protest’s intent to increase pressure on the UC.

“We are going to escalate,” Chowdhury said at the protest. “They disrupt our lives every single day, and it is time for us to say that we are not going to take that anymore, and say unapologetically that we are willing to disrupt their anti-worker agenda.”

UAW is currently bargaining for four potential contracts with the university, which are meant to address paid family leave, rent burden, incidents with abusers and increased fees for international students. According to its website, these contracts are tools UAW will use to ensure that academic workers are “valued and empowered” to fulfill the university’s mission.

At the protest, Tara Phillips, a fifth-year graduate student on campus, alleged the UC system does not evenly distribute its wealth. She contrasted the low wages of graduate student workers with the UC’s recent purchase of a mansion for the UC president, Michael Drake.

“We respectfully disagree with the union’s assertions about take-aways and UC being intransigent,” said UC Office of the President spokesperson Erika Cervantes in an email. “We are committed to fair pay, quality benefits and a supportive, respectful work environment for all of our employees.”

Cervantes noted UC plans to listen to the union’s interests at the negotiation table, and their current proposals for both postdoctoral students and graduate student researchers include annual pay increases and enhanced paid leave.

Kai Yui Samuel Chan, a fourth-year campus Ph.D. candidate, said he thought the university’s best course of action for improving its relationship with its employees is to accept UAW’s proposed contracts.

Despite the intersection blockade, no protestors were arrested. Cars were instead directed away from the march and rerouted.

“As a ten campus system plus Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the UC campaign is the largest current effort of academic organizing nationwide,” UAW said in a press release prior to Tuesday’s protest. “What happens here will be a watershed for all subsequent academic labor organizing.”

Contact Grace Nelligan at [email protected].