UC Santa Cruz Academic Workers Strike as More UC Campuses Prepare for Union Actions

The university maintains that the strike over its handling of pro-Palestinian protests is illegal. The union warns more campuses will join if the university doesn't address the alleged unfair labor practices.
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Updated on May 24, 2024
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  • Academic workers at the University of California, Santa Cruz went on strike May 20 as part of UAW 4811's "stand-up strike."
  • The union alleges that the university infringed upon workers' rights, endangering their well-being, during responses to pro-Palestinian protests on campus.
  • The university has maintained that the strike is illegal and has filed for injunctive relief to end the strike.
  • More campuses may be called to strike as early as this week.

About 2,000 academic workers at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz went on strike Monday over the university's response to pro-Palestinian protests. More UC campuses are preparing to be called to strike as early as this Friday unless the university works to resolve alleged unfair labor practices.

The workers are represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) as UAW 4811. Almost 20,000 members across the UC system participated in a vote from May 13-15, with 79% voting in favor of strike authorization, according to the union.

In a stand-up strike, the UAW 4811 Executive Board has the authority to call campuses to strike at certain times, rather than calling all workers to strike simultaneously.

The union called the strike authorization vote because of the university's response to the protests, which it said endangered union members' well-being and "unilaterally" changed working conditions. It filed multiple unfair labor practice (ULP) charges against UC with the state's Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).

"We are open to sitting down with UC to resolve these unfair labor practices," Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 4811, said in a statement. "We stand ready to reach resolution on these ULPs. Academic workers' first priority is to guarantee our rights and the rights of our coworkers. We're disappointed that UC has refused to engage in PERB's resolution process."

In a statement to BestColleges, a UC spokesperson said that there are "significant obstacles to mediation" given the position of the university and the demands of the union and that the university "is committed to ongoing conversations about these complex issues."

UAW Files Another Unfair Labor Practice Charge

The latest ULP charge, filed May 21, challenges a new disciplinary policy that requires employees arrested by police or cited for violating university policy to go through "the applicable review process, such as the student code of conduct or employee disciplinary process."

The union claims the university did not negotiate the policy with it and is "bypassing the due process of the agreed-upon grievance process" in the union's collective bargaining agreement with UC.

“We're extremely disappointed at UC's intransigence. PERB has opened a path to resolve the crisis in the UC system, and UC management is refusing to take it," their statement read.

"That’s why we're filing another ULP charge today, and restating our openness to sit down and resolve this situation at PERB. If UC does not resolve these ULPs, our union's Executive Board will announce the next of the campuses to stand up no later than Friday."

UC says the guidelines, which were announced by UC President Michael Drake on May 9 and endorsed by the UC Board of Regents on May 16, "affirm that existing policies will be followed."

The union is also asserting that resolving the unfair labor practices must include amnesty for individuals who have been arrested or are currently facing disciplinary action from the university due to their involvement in "peaceful pro-Palestine protests."

UC said that they will treat all members of the community equally and that all individuals who have been arrested or cited for violating university policy are required to go through the applicable review process.

"It is important to understand that what UAW is requesting is an exception to those well-established processes and policies for its members," UC's statement read.

"By requesting amnesty, UAW is asking the University not to follow its processes but rather to make an exception for its members so that they are not subject to the same accountability measures applicable to all other members of the UC community."

UC Files an Injunction

On May 21, the university filed for injunctive relief with PERB, seeking to end the strike.

"Allowing the strike to continue will cause the university and its students irreparable harm — UAW members play a critical role in year-end activities like teaching, grading, and ongoing time-sensitive research," a UC statement read.

UC asserts that the strike is illegal, saying that the union wants the university to "concede to a list of politically motivated demands closely linked to the protests occurring across California and the nation."

"While the university continues to support free speech, lawful protests, and its community’s right to engage in the same, UAW is a labor union and its negotiations with the university must be tied to terms and conditions of employment and terms in the collective bargaining agreement," the statement read.

In response, Jaime said UC has refused to engage in a resolution process with PERB over the series of unfair labor practices filed by the union.

"Rather than de-escalate and deal fairly with protest, UC administration has repeatedly violated academic workers' rights by allowing armed violence against our academic community and is now attempting to use legal procedures to halt a strike organized as a response to those very violations," he said.

"UC's attempts to seek injunctions have been unsuccessful in the past, and we believe this attempt will ultimately be unsuccessful as well. Rather than spending time and resources on these legal maneuvers, UC should remedy their unfair labor practices."