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‘Frustrating’: UC Berkeley academic workers reflect on strike, university treatment

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Multiple graduate students shared their perspectives and motivations behind participating in the ongoing strike, which aims to strengthen union contracts by increasing wages.


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NOVEMBER 16, 2022

After two days of protests, members of the UC Berkeley community continue to strike in protest of unfair labor practices, moving between picket lines around campus.

Academic workers representing different campus departments hoisted signs and posters, chanting in solidarity with one another.

Zach Hicks, a graduate student in the campus Slavic department, said he went on strike because of  his inability to afford rent in the city of Berkeley. As a parent, he noted his paycheck goes mostly toward rent and child care, leaving him with accrued debt.

“I’ve had to choose between health care and groceries, between rent and child care basically the whole time I’ve been here,” Hicks said.

Hicks has taught 10 classes over the past six years. He noted the Slavic department is “closer knit” due to its small size: Nearly every graduate student who is teaching within the department is currently on strike. During his time on campus, Hicks has seen the department change with regards to an increase in union involvement.

Jonathan Mackris, graduate student in the film and media department and one of the strike organizers, has been on the picket line from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. since Monday.

Mackris said the department is “exploding” in size, but with its growth comes a demand for more classes, alongside budget shortages within the department. Although graduate students are invested in their students, the department itself has been put under financial pressure to support the growth.

“We’re here to make the university better,” Mackris said. “Sometimes people think about picketers as if they’re disrupting or hurting kids’ education. … But this is the action that it takes to make the university better and better for everybody.”

Jadie Stillwell, graduate student in the campus English department, echoed the sentiments, noting the university functions because of the work that academic workers do. She claimed that the institution “can’t survive” without its graduate students.

Having worked with the union, Stillwell noted that the origins of the strike date back to fall 2021, when Student Researchers United first fought to be recognized by the university. Apart from standing in solidarity with academic workers, Stillwell is also striking because of her own struggles with living in the Bay Area.

“For me, wages are a really important issue,” Stillwell said. “I myself am incredibly rent burdened; I pay 60% of my monthly take-home paycheck to my rent, and I know that is the case for a lot of my coworkers across the entire UC system.”

One source, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, said he is simply looking to meet his basic needs. Over the past five years on campus, he alleged experiences with wage theft, which he said is a prominent issue within the campus nuclear engineering department.

Having been on the picket line since Monday, the anonymous source said the strike provokes a mixture of emotions.

“It’s high energy, a lot of people are here,” the source said. “But it’s also frustrating because I don’t want to be here. I want to be in my office doing work.”

Contact Maya Jimenez at 


NOVEMBER 16, 2022