Striking graduate students at the campuses of the University of California ended their strike with contract agreements between two UAW locals representing teaching assistants and graduate student researchers with hefty percentage agreements. But a split arose between workers at different campuses, some of whom rejected the deal overwhelmingly while the majorities across the multi-campus system approved the settlement.
Many felt that their own union, UAW, had sold them out. UAW hired Brightline Communications, a PR firm that seemed to target rank-and-file militants more than the UC Regents. The “A” in UAW stands for Automobile, although a substantial portion of the current represented workforce are “Academic”.
While the percentage gains of the new UAW contract seem impressive, some graduate students lamented other proposals that could have truly transformed the UC system. The Union proposed a community safety article that would have defunded UC police budgets. An access needs proposal would have provided disabled students with access to what they need to safely and equitably complete their work and education, without having to submit costly and humiliating medical documentation. While the original wages proposal demanded a $54K wage floor and guaranteed Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). The Cost of Living Adjustment would have eased the epidemic of rent burden and homelessness among graduate students. The community safety article was dropped without significant bargaining, the access needs article was watered down to allow the UC to determine what is “reasonable,” while the COLA language was dropped altogether, and the $54K wage floor morphed into $36,500 by October 1st, 2024.
Janna Haider, a graduate student at Santa Cruz and a member of the UAW 2865 Bargaining team, told the SF Examiner that the contract “does not come close to our initial demands and it leaves a lot of our co-workers still rent burdened, still impoverished, but also now in this weird position where they make slightly too much to qualify for certain public assistance programs.” She tweeted that “Maybe tomorrow I will have something hopeful to say. But this sucks. Watching your own labor union spend tens of thousands of dollars to silence the critiques of those whom it marginalizes sucks.”
Anne Fosburg at UCSC, which voted the settlement down, tweeted: “I feel gutted. yes, we fought so hard. yes, we built real, unprecedented transformative rank and file power. but we also lost. we’re up against really powerful forces & i believe we fought as hard as we could but this contract is unlivable for so many. devastating.” Guillem Belmar at US Santa Barbara offered a kind of class or stratification analysis of the vote: “The UC and the union clearly knew who they were privileging, with higher salaries of UCB, UCLA, and UCSF. Berkeley and UCLA are almost impossible to outvote, even when UCSC and UCSB (the most rent-burdened campuses) overwhelmingly reject this contract.”