Striking UC workers ratify new contracts with university system
The unions representing striking University of California graduate student workers and researchers Friday evening announced final agreement on new contracts — ending a 40-day walkout by some 48,000 workers with what the unions called “historic gains,” while making the workers “among the best supported in public higher education in the country,” according to the UC.
Voting by members of the United Auto Workers began earlier this week, after a tentative agreement was announced last Friday.
Results of separate votes by UAW 2865 and Student Researchers United-UAW were announced Friday night. The vote for UAW 2865 was 11,386 to 7,097, while the vote for SRU-UAW was 10,057 to 4,640, the unions said.
The new contracts go into effect immediately and will be in place through May 31, 2025.
“The agreements make historic gains in compensation, childcare subsidies and paid leaves, and include groundbreaking new protections against bullying and discrimination,” the unions said in a statement.
According to said Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 2865, “The dramatic improvements to our salaries and working conditions are the result of tens of thousands of workers striking together in unity.”
“These agreements redefine what is possible in terms of how universities support their workers, who are the backbone of their research and education enterprise,” Jaime added. “They include especially significant improvements for parents and marginalized workers, and will improve the quality of life for every single academic employee at the University of California.”
Added Tarini Hardikar, a member of the SRU-UAW Bargaining Team at UC Berkeley: “For the first time ever, student researchers now have legal contractual protections at UC.”
“The rights we secured today will help ensure that victims of harassment and discrimination aren’t forced off their career paths, will make UC more family-friendly, and take important steps towards paying us what we are worth,” Hardikar said. “It will help ensure that UC can support a diverse workforce, which will improve the quality of research and teaching across the system.”
About 48,000 workers, including 17,000 student researchers, at UCLA, UC Irvine, the eight other University of California campuses and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory went on strike in mid-November, seeking higher salaries and greater annual raises, free public transit passes, improved child care benefits and greater job security.
A UC statement Friday night said the university “welcomes the ratification of these agreements with our valued graduate student employees.”
“The university believed that the assistance of a third-party mediator would help the parties reach agreement, which is why we are so grateful that the union accepted our invitation to mediation and partnered with us in selecting Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg to serve as the mediator,” said Letitia Silas, executive director of UC’s systemwide labor relations.
“As a result of this collaboration, the parties were ultimately able to reach tentative agreements on the contracts as a whole in just a few days following months of negotiations. The University of California has negotiated several fair labor agreements over the last year with our represented employees.
“Today’s ratification demonstrates yet again the university’s strong commitment to providing every one of our hardworking employees with competitive compensation and benefit packages that honor their many contributions to our institution, to our community, and to the state of California.”
The strike was the nation’s largest since 2019, the largest at any academic institution, and first by postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers, according to the union.
According to the unions, terms of the 2 1/2-year contracts guarantee that wages will rise significantly for all workers — including up to 80% for some of the lowest paid.
“Other improvements in childcare and dependent coverage mean that more parents will be able to provide health care for their children,” the unions said.
“First-of-their kind anti-bullying measures will allow workers to finally address the systemic power imbalance in academia. And three years of remission of Non-Resident Student Tuition are now codified, meaning that international workers will be able to enforce this right and UC will not be able to take it away.”
UAW President Ray Curry said: “This is a tremendous victory for not only the members of UAW Local 2865 and SRU-UAW but for all academic workers. The entire UAW family celebrates this victory with them.”
According to the UC, the deal would set minimum pay for graduate student researchers at $34,564.50 for 50% time work by Oct. 1, 2024. The minimum nine-month salary for teaching assistants would be $34,000 for 50% time work by Oct. 1, 2024, although the rate will be $36,500 at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UCLA.
“This is a positive step forward for the university and for our students, and I am grateful for the progress we have made together,” UC President Michael Drake said in a statement last week.
“Our Academic Student Employees and Graduate Student Researchers are central to our academic enterprise and make incredible contributions to the university’s mission of research and education. These agreements will place our graduate student employees among the best supported in public higher education.”
Postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers each overwhelmingly ratified their new contracts in voting that concluded Dec. 9.
The final count was 89.4% of postdoctoral scholars and 79.5% of academic researchers voting in favor of ratification, the union announced.
The workers’ groups reached tentative labor deals with the university Nov. 29 but continued striking in solidarity with the other workers while those negotiations continued.