Politico

University of California workers approve contract agreement, ending longest higher education strike in U.S.

The largest education strike in U.S. history ended Friday when academic workers at the University of California approved contracts that will deliver pay raises of up to 80 percent.

The United Auto Workers, which represented the striking workers, announced heading into the holiday weekend that its members had ratified two-and-a-half-year agreements covering about 36,000 employees in two groups: graduate student researchers and student employees who work in academic support roles such as teachers’ assistants, tutors and graders.

Those employees plus 12,000 others went on strike Nov. 14, disrupting classes in the last months of the fall term after negotiations stalled. The workers insisted they needed more money than the university had offered to afford to live in some of the most expensive cities in the country. Union members ratified an agreement in voting ending Friday that was reached last week between university officials and union representatives.

“We’re all very excited, said Rafael Jaime, President of UAW 2865, which represents the academic student employees. “We knew that this was a historic contract and we’re really glad that it was ratified. Now as soon as we come back to work we will start to enforce our newly won rights in the contract and continue to build power in our union.”

Raises will range from 55% to 80% through a combination of implementing experience-based pay structures for the first time, standardizing pay across campuses, raising minimum starting salaries and providing extra bumps for workers in the highest-cost areas.

The agreements will raise minimum starting salaries to nearly $35,000 for graduate student researchers and $34,000 for teaching assistants by October 2024. The wage floor for teaching assistants will rise to $36,500 at UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Francisco.

“I think this fight has always been about making the university of California more accessible to workers of diverse backgrounds. Through these new contracts I think we’ve made the UC open opportunities for many new workers,” Jaime said.

The agreement also enhances benefits for employees with children, adds new protections against bullying and discrimination and provides new paid leaves, according to the UAW news release.

The vote among the academic student employees was 11,386 to 7,097, while the vote among the graduate researchers was 10,057 to 4,640, according to the union.

The decisive results followed infighting among representatives at the individual universities, with UAW chairs at schools like UC Merced, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz launching a campaign to convince union members to vote against the contract.

The bargaining team for UAW 2865, which represents 19,000 employees including the teaching assistants and tutors, backed the proposal on an 11-8 vote. Representatives for SRU-UAW, which is made up of 17,000 graduate student researchers, voted 13-7 in favor.

Opponents of the contract argued the wage increases were still not enough to cover living costs in the most expensive cities, and balked at the two-year ramp up period. UAW negotiators proposed doubling some salaries at the start of the strike, but later reduced the proposal.

About 12,000 postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers returned to work earlier in the month after ratifying a contract agreement on Dec. 9. That contract will hike their minimum pay to $70,000, among the highest in the nation.

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