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University of California union workers authorize strike following protests

Unionized graduate students who work on University of California campuses and graduate students at the University of Southern California are now threatening to walk off their jobs in response to escalating tensions surrounding pro-Palestinian protests in schools.

Union members who work on UC campuses, including UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UC San Diego, voted Wednesday to authorize leaders to go on strike. Teaching and research assistants who are also graduate students at universities are members of the union.

Graduate students who serve in similar roles at USC have filed complaints of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees labor issues involving private-sector employers in response to the treatment of protesters on the campus.

United Auto Workers Local 4811 represents thousands of UC graduate students and reported that 79 percent of union members approved the strike authorization.

UAW Local 4811 is calling on UC schools to grant amnesty to all university employees and students who face arrest or discipline for protesting. The union wants students to benefit from guarantees of free speech and political expression on campus and demands that researchers be able to opt out of funding sources linked to the Israeli Defense Forces.

In a statement released before the vote, University of California Presidential Office officials said the union’s demands were outside the scope of employment negotiations.

“The UC believes that the vote currently being held by UAW leadership sets a dangerous precedent that could introduce non-labor issues into labor agreements,” the statement said. “If a strike were authorized over political and labor disputes, the resulting work stoppages would significantly impact UC’s ability to deliver on its promises to its students, its community and the state of California.”

UC graduate students have authorized four previous work stoppages, most recently in November 2022. It was the largest strike in higher education history, with 48,000 members participating. They stopped working for six weeks. It ended with the union negotiating a new contract that included a more than 50 percent increase in workers’ base pay.

The aim of the strike authorized on Wednesday is not to increase wages, but to protect workers’ rights. In addition to seeking amnesty and protection, the union is demanding that universities disclose all known investments in weapons manufacturers, military contractors and companies profiting from the wars between Israel and Hamas.

California Daily Newspapers

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