UC Academic Workers Strike as Board of Regents Meets

The governing board of the University of California met in person at the University of California, San Francisco amid striking workers' calls for higher wages and better benefits.

Updated November 18, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
UC Academic Workers Strike as Board of Regents Meets
Photo by Margaret Attridge

  • About 48,000 academic workers across the University of California system have been on strike since Nov. 14.
  • Some of the workers' demands include increased compensation, more support for working parents, and increased assistance for international workers.
  • The UC board of regents met on campus at UCSF, where hundreds of workers formed a picket line.

Academic workers across the University of California (UC) system entered the third day of their strike Wednesday, demanding a fair contract including higher wages and more benefits for international students and working parents.

The academic workers include some 48,000 researchers, postdocs, and teaching assistants (TAs) across the UC system's 10 campuses. They are represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Multiple picket lines have formed across UC campuses, including one at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Mission Bay campus, where the UC board of regents held its monthly in-person meeting Wednesday.

Striking UC academic workers and their supporters picketing at UCSF Mission Bay on Wednesday told BestColleges that they're determined to negotiate a fair deal with the UC system.

We are prepared, we are ready to bargain anywhere, all day, any day, Evan Holloway, a postdoctoral student in the Department of Psychiatry, told BestColleges. And we're just waiting for [UC] to stop canceling sessions, to show up prepared, and to get this done, he said. But we will be out here as long as we need to, at least, one more day than them, to make sure we get what we need.

California state Sen. Scott Wiener, whose district includes San Francisco, spoke to academic workers on strike at UCSF Mission Bay on Tuesday and Wednesday. He told BestColleges that UC needs to get serious at the bargaining table.

Ultimately, UC just has to do the right thing here and collectively bargain and get the deal done, he said.

But as of Wednesday, the largest strike of academic workers ever in U.S. history seemed destined to extend deeper into November.

UC has proposed that UAW and UC enter into mediation with a neutral, private mediator to help resolve the significant differences that remain.

But striking workers don't widely support mediation, UAW officials have said.

At this point, the priority should be round-the-clock bargaining in good faith as opposed to switching to a mediation process, UAW 2865 President Rafael Jaime said in a statement emailed Tuesday. We remain willing and able to meet with the University on an ongoing basis to reach a resolution.

UC Board of Regents Unresponsive

If striking academic workers in San Francisco thought their proximity to the UC board of regents would help elevate their demands, they were mistaken.

The board didn't trumpet its November meeting in San Francisco or the fact that it would allow public comment.

Academic workers who were able to speak during the board of regents public comment told BestColleges that the regents told speakers they were forbidden from responding in any format to public comments during the meeting.

Wenqi Shen, a fourth-year UCSF chemistry and chemical biology graduate student from China, was one of the few academic workers who spoke to the board of regents during the public comment session.

Before they allowed [public] comment, they acknowledged that they are aware of the strike going on and they're gonna try to settle it fast, she said. I didn't actually know that the general public or students [were] allowed to go to the regents meeting. They never advertised it … If [we] learned about it way earlier, then people [would have] showed up, and they would be able to hear our voice[s], especially international students.

Shen specifically wanted to share with regents some of the problems that international students like her face, including residency eligibility.

Residency eligibility is incredibly important to Shen and other international students, she said. When it was her turn to comment, she urged the regents to remit the nonresident supplements as part of the contract.

She also asked them to provide a supplement for expensive visa applications, which are required to work in the U.S.

Even though we have been here for years, we still won't be qualified for residency, and then UC charges [us] nonresident tuition supplements, Shen explained. It is technically not our choice to not become residents.

Striking Academic Workers Outline Demands

Concerns such as Shen's are at the top of the UAW's demands. The union is requesting that international students in bargaining units be exempt from paying nonresident tuition fees, which is a financial benefit not afforded to other students, according to a UC webpage on the ongoing UC-UAW negotiations.

But other issues that have driven UC academic workers to strike are also reverberating throughout U.S. workplaces.

Holloway, who is expecting a child in the spring, said one of his main motivations for joining the picket line is to fight for an increase in childcare stipends and paid leave for new parents.

Currently, UC is offering postdoctoral students around $200 a month, or $2,500 annually, for childcare costs. However, infant and toddler daycare at UCSF for infants and toddlers can range from $1,499 per month (two days per week) to $3,190 per month (five days per week).

[Their offer] is just unreasonable and disrespectful, Holloway said. I also would like an extra month with my kid when they are born. Right now, we have one month of paid leave, and we're fighting for two.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a priority for first-year science grad student Gabriella Maldonado, who told BestColleges that the financial burdens of graduate school limit the type of people, such as low-income students and parent-workers, who can enter academia.

If [UC] is serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion, like they have tried to say, then it's extremely pertinent for them to show that, put their money where their mouth is, and that means paying a fair wage, Maldonado said. For people who are applying to be grad students, for postdocs, and people who want to raise families, [compensation] is just such a limiting option for a lot of people, and it shouldn't be.

Maldonado chose to attend UCSF because of its supportive community, she told BestColleges. The university will lose out on talent who want to come to UCSF if they can't afford to live in the Bay Area.

I think that this strike really made it clear how much of a community there is here, but the UC is just not supporting that, she said. SF is just an insane city to live in … it's really hard to make a living wage and pay your way through. I have no scientists in my family. I'm the first person getting a Ph.D., and it's just really hard.