Academic Workers to Strike Against University of California Over Handling of Campus Protests

Academic Workers to Strike Against University of California Over Handling of Campus Protests

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies keep watch near a pro-Palestinian encampment, the morning after it was attacked by counter-protestors at the University of California, Los Angeles campus, on May 1, 2024. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin


Updated: 5/20/2024


After a union representing academic workers in the University of California (UC) system voted to strike against the university over school administrators’ handling of ongoing pro-Palestinian protests, UC Santa Cruz will be the first campus to see a walkout on Monday, the UAW 4811 announced May 17.
In response, UC filed an unfair labor practice complaint with California’s Public Employment Relations Board Friday, requesting the state to order the union to stop any strike activity.
In a letter to campus community, UC Santa Cruz’s Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer said academic workers—most of whom are graduate student employees—are “free to exercise their rights [to express their views] so long as such participation does not conflict or interfere with their work responsibilities and does not violate university policies.”
With the walkout imminent, Ms. Kletzer said the school’s primary goal now is to “minimize the disruptive impact,” partly through emails and text messages sharing time-sensitive updates with students and staff.
UC officials said Thursday the systemwide strike—authorized by union members on Wednesday—violates the law and the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
“This strike is illegal,” said Melissa Matella, associate vice president of Systemwide Labor Relations, in a statement. “UAW’s decision to strike over nonlabor issues violates the no-strike clause of their contracts with U.C. and sets a dangerous and far-reaching precedent that social, political, and cultural issues—no matter how valid—that are not labor-related can support a labor strike.”
The union, representing 48,000 members across 11 campuses, also filed an unfair labor practice charge May 3 against the university’s Board of Regents with the California Public Employment Relations Board, claiming the organization deprived them of their liberty and forcibly arrested them.
The charge was filed after the University of California—Los Angeles (UCLA) allowed law enforcement to disperse a nearly weeklong protest on the campus, arresting 210 protesters and academic workers.
The union claims officers fired rubber bullets at the protesters, which caused several to be injured and some to require surgery and stitches.
The union’s president Rafael Jaime, also a post-graduate English student at UCLA, participated in the protest. He said the union had no other choice but to strike after the university’s actions violated union members’ rights to free speech, protest, and collective action.
“At the heart of this strike authorization vote is our right to free speech and to peaceful protest without fear of intimidation and reprisal by our very own university,” Mr. Jaime wrote in an opinion piece published Wednesday by the university’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin.
Mr. Jaime said the union did not make the decision lightly.
The union’s workers—about 19,800—voted 79 percent in favor of the strike Wednesday.
In a response, UC officials asserted they took lawful action to end impermissible and unlawful behavior at the demonstrations. They also said the list of demands issued by student protesters and some members of the union “are political demands that are outside the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.”
The union’s members perform the bulk of teaching and research across the university’s 10 campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. These workers include student researchers, tutors, readers, teaching assistants, project scientists, and program coordinators.

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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