Units of the United Auto Workers union, which comprise 48,000 academic workers — which includes postdoctoral scholars, academic researchers, academic student employees and graduate student researchers — across the university went on strike Monday.
Professors and other members of campus faculty have adapted their methods of instruction to stand in solidarity with those on the picket line.
“My course was already set up essentially for instructional continuity because I already had lectures from the COVID era posted for the entire course when it started,” said Peter Jenks, associate professor in the campus linguistics department. “I’ve canceled live instruction, sections and office hours.”
Jenks added that he has canceled live instruction because he is not willing to cross the picket line in person or digitally by teaching via Zoom.
However, he said students who still wish to learn the material can watch existing lectures as well as complete readings and assignments that have already been posted online for credit.
“I am still giving students the opportunity to learn the material and asking them to complete an assessment on the basis of it. But that’s essentially the most I can do without the support of my GSIs,” Jenks said. “The main message that I want my actions to send is that instruction at a school as big as UC Berkeley is impossible without grad student and undergrad student instructor support.”
James Vernon, campus professor in the department of history and chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, said Academic Senate faculty — like professors — have a legally protected right to support the strike in any way they see fit, which can include fully withdrawing their teaching labor.
However, lecturers who are members of UC-AFT, a separate union that represents non-Senate faculty and librarians, have a no-strike clause in their contract, according to Vernon. This means they are not offered the same protections as professors to withdraw their labor, Vernon added.
“Any employee of the university who refuses to work (including teach, conduct research, or do administrative work) may face loss of pay for the time during which they are on strike,” said Berkeley Law professor Catherine Fisk in an email. “Many professors, however, may experience the effects of loss of GSIs or GSRs for the duration of the strike, as they may struggle to keep research on track, to keep labs running, and to instruct students.”
Fisk said she is currently not teaching in order to honor the picket line. However, she noted that some faculty require attendance and are continuing to teach in person, so students can experience consequences for failure to attend.
Jenks said he believes most faculty members are supportive of the strike, adding that the demands are reasonable.
“Graduate students in the UC system are underpaid,” Jenks said. “So if a strike is necessary to generate a better pay for graduate students then I think, so be it. Ultimately, it’s going to make the institution stronger because our graduate students will be more productive and better able to focus on their teaching and research.”