University of California employees grabbed picket lines and took to the streets ( photo)

Academic strikes are the latest wave of labor unrest taking place across the country.

On Monday, Nov. 14, some 48,000 University of California employees grabbed picket lines and took to the streets in what their union is saying could be the U.S.’s largest academic strike ever among higher education workers.

Those striking included UAW 2865’s teaching assistants, graduate student instructors, tutors, and readers; members of Student Researchers United-UAW; and the postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers who are part of UAW5810.  Employees on all 10 UC campuses supported the strike authorization in voting held between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2—a total of 36,558 votes were cast and 98% of the workers said they would strike if necessary.

When the strike began Nov. 14, UC would not accede to union demands for income increases—union members have complained that their average income is around $24,000 a year, which does not cover the cost of living in California. Labor unions want base salaries for all academic student employees to go up to $54,000. Housing costs are one reason workers want a raise: labor unions claim that 90% of UC’s grad workers are rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their pre-tax income for housing. “UC touts its graduate housing as an affordable alternative to the expensive private market,” says Fair UC Now, the umbrella organization representing the unions. “Unfortunately, few workers actually save money by renting from UC. … At no campus is the discount offered by UC housing significant. In fact, at some campuses UC housing is more expensive than the private rental market.” The unions also want better childcare reimbursements and healthcare for workers who have families to support: accessible technology and software for disabled workers; and more funds to retain international scholars, among other demands. As of press time, UC and the unions continue taking part in day-long negotiations to resolve the now-three week-long strike. 

In the New York City area, part-time faculty members at The New School and Parsons School of Design staged a walk-out on Nov. 16 after their contracts expired on Nov. 13.

“Across the country, exploited academic workers have been organizing en masse for fair pay and decent working conditions. The New School’s reputation rests on its progressive history and professed values—a reputation with which its treatment of workers fails to align,” claims Academics Come Together/UAW (ACT-UAW) Local 7902, which represents the strikers.

“Part-time faculty are 87% of The New School’s instructional staff. The university’s spending on their salaries comprises a mere 7.5% to 8.5% of its budget. While administrative bloat is a problem in universities across the country, The New School pays 2.3 times the national average on administration relative to instruction. Part-time faculty have not received a raise in over four years; as a result, their real earnings are down 18% from 2018. After making only three compensation proposals in over 28 sessions, the university’s final offer is a mere 3.5% wage increase in a time of record inflation.”

In an online statement, The New School claims that it has “finite resources—far less than some other institutions in our area—that must cover a huge range of faculty, staff, and functions across the institution. The union’s proposed compensation package would cost the university more than $200 million over the course of the contract; that’s almost 50% of the total university annual operating budget of around $460 million.” But union reps are countering this claim, stating that “The University cites financial constraints but refuses to offer to the union and broader New School community full financial transparency that would adequately evidence constraints.”

The New School advised students and faculty who choose to support the strike to find other ways to complete their course requirements while negotiations continue. “We know that all our faculty care deeply about students and their education. We encourage those who choose to strike to let their students know how they can continue to make progress toward their learning outcomes,” The New School’s Provost Dr. Renée T. White wrote in a guiding statement for students and faculty. “In general, we are advising that students continue to follow the syllabus requirements for their courses even if their faculty choose to honor the strike by not teaching/meeting their classes.”

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