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Widespread strikes descend on California

Academic workers go on strike for improved pay and working conditions at UC Davis in Davis on Nov. 14, 2022. 48,000 workers participated in the statewide strike across all UC campuses.
Rahul Lal
Academic workers go on strike for improved pay and working conditions at UC Davis in Davis on Nov. 14, 2022. 48,000 workers participated in the statewide strike across all UC campuses.

It’s strike season in California, again.

Tuesday, fast food workers across the state are set to picket outside of Starbucks, Chipotle, Jack in the Box and other restaurants to protest the companies’ efforts to qualify a 2024 referendum to overturn a new state law. The first-in-the-nation law, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed on Labor Day, would create a state council to regulate fast food industry working conditions and push the minimum wage to as much as $22 per hour next year.

Meanwhile, 48,000 University of California academic workers — who conduct much of the teaching, grading and research at the nation’s premier public university system — are prepared to begin their second straight day of strikes at all 10 UC campuses to demand significantly higher wages to help cover sky-high housing costs, improved child care subsidies, enhanced health coverage and other benefits.

The widespread walkout of teaching assistants, postdocs, graduate student researchers and other employees has already prompted class cancellations and forced labs to close or scale back their research — not long before the start of final exams.

The UC strikes have attracted the attention of some of the state’s most powerful leaders: 33 state lawmakers sent a letter to UC President Michael Drake urging him to “avert strikes by ceasing to commit unfair labor practices and begin bargaining in good faith” with the four United Auto Workers unions representing the academic employees. The UC Regents are set to meet Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco.

  • The lawmakers, led by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat and chairperson of his chamber’s labor and employment committee: “As one of California’s largest employers, the UC has not only the opportunity but also the obligation to be a leader in setting industry standards for academia, thus leading the way for other public employers. … By failing to do so, UC is risking mass disruption and losing the talent that has earned UC its prestigious reputation.”
  • UC said in an online statement that it “strongly disagrees” with allegations that it has committed unfair labor practices, adding, “Throughout the negotiations, UC has listened carefully to the union’s concerns and bargained in good faith,” including by making offers that are “generous, responsive to union priorities, and recognize the many valuable contributions of these employees.”

The fearsome California Labor Federation, led by former state lawmaker Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, also threw the weight of its 1,200 unions behind the UC workers by granting a statewide strike sanction that allows its 2 million members to honor picket lines. Other labor groups, including local Teamsters unions representing UPS employees, did the same — which could limit deliveries to UC campuses during the strike.

CalMatters’ College Journalism Network fellow Megan Tagami spoke with some of the hundreds of protesters — including undergraduate students and faculty members supporting the academic workers — at UCLA on Monday.

Aya Konishi, a doctoral student in the sociology department, said she regularly commutes two hours round-trip between West Hollywood and Westwood because her current salary prevents her from living closer to campus. Even so, she said, half of her $2,400 monthly salary still goes toward rent.

  • Konishi: “For many of us, more than 30% of our paycheck every month goes towards rent. And that’s a very huge issue that I think applies to many, many people in our union.” 

And more strikes are headed UC’s way: On Wednesday, unionized resident physicians and fellows at UCLA hospitals are set to hold a “unity break” to call for improved pay and benefits. “Despite serving on the frontlines of the state’s largest healthcare system, residents at UCLA are overworked and underpaid, while often carrying over $200,000 on average in student loan debt,” according to the Committee of Interns and Residents, part of the Services Employees International Union.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.