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UC grad strike outcome is ‘disappointing’ for many rank-and-file

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Voters at the Santa Cruz, Merced and Santa Barbara campuses overwhelmingly voted against the new contract for academic student employees, at 80%, 73% and 65% respectively.


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JANUARY 11, 2023

Despite the new contract agreements reached following the historic six-week UC academic workers strike, many have expressed disappointment concerning the “significant concessions” that were made to reach an agreement with the university.

The contract ratified by UC graduate student workers includes an increase in salary, more childcare support and new protections against bullying and harassment. However, some are disappointed by multiple concessions relating to the demand for cost of living adjustment to fight inflation, the end of non-resident supplemental tuition, and other demands.

Voters at the Santa Cruz, Merced and Santa Barbara campuses overwhelmingly voted against the new contract for academic student employees, at 80%, 73% and 65% respectively. The Los Angeles and Berkeley campuses voted overwhelmingly in favor of the contract, with only 36% and 31% voting against it.

There is currently an online petition signed by 254 rank-and-file members of the UAW 2865 union advocating for the annulment of the contract and rerun of the contract election, citing the violation of bylaws, the International UAW Constitution and ethics codes.

“There was a lot of propaganda from UAW itself, using UAW email servers to get people to vote yes,” Rebecca Gross, a rank-and-file UAW 2865 organizer and teaching assistant, alleged. “This is something that people who are organizing for the overturning of the ratification vote are focusing on.”

However, according to Gross, it is unlikely that the movement to overturn the vote will succeed.

Gross noted that there were major concessions made relating to cost of living adjustment, disability, child care and non-resident supplemental tuition.

Emily Heydon, a UAW 2865 member and a teaching assistant at UC Irvine, said without family support, and with increased costs of attendance due to disability and medical issues, she “will sink further into debt” under the new contract for academic student employees.

Heydon, a third-year graduate student in philosophy of science at UCI, said she has already taken on a significant amount of debt in her first two years and will not see the majority of the raise from the new contract until her fifth year.

Additionally, Heydon said the majority of graduate students at UCI are renting from university property and that the university keeps raising the rent every year.

“How are we going to get more women into STEM? How are we going to get more people of color into our area of philosophy? You can start by actually paying people a living wage so that they could afford to come,” Heydon said.

According to Christopher Fan, an assistant professor of English at UC Irvine who went on strike in solidarity, the strike was at its peak power at the end of Dec. However, this power was eventually “squandered” amid the rush to vote.

This was “really deeply disappointing” to many rank-and-file because the full extent of the strike’s power was not leveraged to get a better contract, Fan said.

“It did seem like more gains were possible,” Fan said. “The energy was there to extend the strike into 2023.”

Under the new contract for graduate workers, there is “some backtracking,” given a no-sympathy strike provision that harms the union’s ability to organize, according to Fan.

According to Ross Hernández, a graduate student at UC Davis and a member of UAW 2865, many were unhappy due to “major concessions” relating to disability access needs, off-campus police, and the dramatic reduction of parental paid leave.

Rank-and-file members were often shut out from negotiating spaces, alleged Hernández, adding that the union is “too bureaucratic and too conservative” to actually serve the needs of its members.

“The UAW leadership often underestimated the power of the strike that was on their hands and often collaborated with shutting it down as quickly as possible,” Hernández alleged.

Hernández added that the outcome of the strike was “really disappointing” and “disheartening” for him and a lot of his colleagues.

However, UAW 2865 president Rafael Jaime maintains that the process was “completely transparent and democratic.” He acknowledged that some would have preferred to strike longer but noted that “there is no guarantee that would have delivered a better offer.”

“The vast majority of this union is moving forward … We look forward to building on our successes in two years when we head back to the bargaining table,” Jaime said in an email.

Contact Victor Corona at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @victorcoronas.

JANUARY 11, 2023