Academic staff at the University of California have chosen to return to work, union officials said on Friday night. This brings an end to a record huge strike that has interrupted research and classrooms throughout the famous public university for about six weeks total.
The ratification votes that were cast by strong majorities in two contentious bargaining units of the United Auto Workers have ensured that tens of thousands of workers will return in January once the holiday break for the 10-campus system comes to an end. The arrangements were applauded by union leaders, despite the fact that some negotiators had claimed that the agreement did not give sufficient compensation and benefits to members who were struggling with the high cost of living in California.
Rafael Jaime, a doctorate candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles and the president of U.A.W. 2865, said in a statement that “these agreements redefine what is possible in terms of how institutions support their employees, who are the backbone of their research and education sector.” The quality of life for every single academic employee at the University of California will be improved as a result of these reforms, which include notably substantial advantages for parents and employees who are marginalised in the workforce.
In November, over 48,000 unionised workers, the most of whom were graduate students, walked off the job. As of this month, approximately 36,000 workers were still on strike, despite the fact that postdoctoral staff and researchers independently signed their contracts. The work stoppage was the longest and most widespread in the annals of national labour history among employees affiliated with universities.
The employees whose contracts were signed on Friday do a significant portion of the day-to-day labour engaged in classroom teaching. Their absence has already caused disruptions to research, autumn tests, and grading. The workers’ contracts were ratified on Friday.
After a series of mediation meetings headed by the mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, who is both a lawyer and an alumni of the University of California, union leaders and university administration came to an agreement a week ago. However, there was no guarantee that the deal would be ratified.
In a statement, union officials at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where academic workers mounted a strike in 2020 without the support of the United Academic Workers, reported that employees there decisively voted against ratifying the contract. This information was included in the statement. They were aware that a number of members may be disheartened as a result of the statewide vote, but they found comfort in the widespread mobilisation of workers.
They encouraged dissatisfied members to “redouble our commitment to the organising that has taken us this far” and to resist the urge to leave the union. “We must celebrate the level and depth of rank-and-file engagement throughout this contract fight and strike,” they wrote.
The extremely high cost of housing in California was a primary factor in the walkout. The union had demanded that the university clearly relate remuneration to the cost of housing in the surrounding region of the school in an effort to get some respite from the skyrocketing rates. The employees had also requested that their basic wage for working part-time at the institution be increased to around $54,000 per year.
The agreement that was ratified on Friday did not increase pay to that level; however, it did significantly raise starting salaries over the course of a two and a half year contract, with higher pay scales for more experienced workers and those who are facing particularly expensive housing costs at campuses in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
The beginning salary for graduate student researchers will increase to about $35,500 from its current level of around $22,000, while the starting salary for teaching assistants would increase from approximately $23,000 to $34,000.
Additionally, the agreement contained improved benefits for transportation, medical care, and child care, and it provided newly organised student researchers with the very first contractual safeguards they had ever received.
The university issued a statement expressing its appreciation to the union for agreeing to participate in voluntary mediation.
“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 honour their many contributions to our institution, to our community, and to the state of California,” said Letitia Silas, executive director of systemwide labour relations for the university.