.UCSC Grad Students Continue Strike

University files complaint with labor board, says strike is illegal

This story was updated on May 24 at 5:00 p.m.

UC Santa Cruz graduate students and researchers went on strike on Monday May 20 to protest the treatment of fellow union members during pro-Palestinian protests at two other universities. 

The United Auto Workers (UAW) 4811 at UCSC are the first to go on strike in the University of California system. Approximately 1,200 to 1,400 of the 2,000 members at UCSC have gone on strike according to Rebecca Gross, third-year doctoral student in literature at UCSC and unit chair of UAW 4811.

They say the move is in solidarity with fellow members at UCLA and UC San Diego, and started striking the same day the International Criminal Court announced an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leaders. 

Throughout the week, hundreds of graduate, undergraduate students and some professors took to the intersection of High Street and Coolidge Drive to protest at the main entrance to the university, blocking it on the first day.

secure document shredding

Classes went online for the entire week because of continued disruption to campus, according to UC Santa Cruz. It’s unclear when classes will resume in-person.

The union alleges that the UC system discriminated against fellow members who were engaged in protected protest activity by calling in a “forceful police intervention” at UCLA on May 1.

The University Responds

In response, the University of California said in a statement on May 21 that the strike at UCSC is unlawful. They filed an Unfair Labor Practice with the state Public Labor Relations Board asking the union to “cease and desist from strike activity.”

In a filing to the Public Labor Relations Board, UC said that the strike violates its collective bargaining agreement and that if the strike is allowed to stand, “the University — and every other public agency in California — would face constant strikes advancing political and/or social viewpoints.”

The labor board declined to issue an injunction against the strike on May 23 but brought a new labor complaint against the UAW for going out on strike in violation of the “no strike clause” in its bargaining agreement. 

The union announced workers at UCLA and UC Davis would join the strike on Tuesday as part of the UAW’s stand-up strike strategy pioneered in auto factories to create bottlenecks in the supply chain.

In total around 11,000-12,000 more workers will be on strike, according to Gross.

“We are not surprised that the UC was seeking out an injunction,” said Gross. “We were pretty confident in our legal case for being out here on strike and obviously the Public Labor Relations Board agreed with us about that so there is a widespread feeling of renewed morale and excitement that there is not going to be any barriers to us continuing to strike.”

Legal experts say the UAW 8411 has a strong case because the UC system likely violated labor law by unilaterally changing the terms of the contract with the union breaking any “no strike clause.”

Ultimately, these alleged violations will be settled in court. 

“The university has tried a lot of strike breaking tactics here. Our Chancellor has been sending out emails saying that the strike is illegal,” Gross said. “After this injunction more workers might work off the job.”

Gross said the strike is about “health and safety violations” at UCLA and UC San Diego and not about what is happening in Gaza directly. 

“We are not officially striking for Gaza. We’re in solidarity with our co-workers that were striking [protesting] in solidarity for the encampments,” Gross said. “There’s a lot of solidarity.”

A History of Strikes 

This is not the first time UCSC and the wider UC system has endured strikes. 

The union was founded in March after the merging of the UC graduate student and postdoc worker’s unions. It now represents 48,000 researchers and teaching assistants in the UC system. 

Graduate students part of UAW went on strike in 2019 at UCCS over a cost-of-living adjustment. Years later in 2022, graduate students went on strike again, with members striking for six weeks over better pay and benefits and affecting the entire UC system.

After talking to fellow union members and friends at UCLA and San Diego, many of whom were bailing each other out of jail, Gross said she realized they had the best opportunity to go on strike locally. 

“We didn’t have any of those crackdowns so we were able to organize during the period because of that,” Gross said. “We had a very strong strike authorization vote. We were able to get multiple mass meetings together and smaller departmental meetings to check in with folks. We were very strike ready.”

Because of UCSC’s experience with months-long strikes, she said they’ve already shown they can go the distance over causes they care about. UCSC’s commencement will be June 17. The strike has been authorized until June 30. That means grades could be held until graduation making it a graduation in name only for some students.

On the topic of graduation Gross says it is up to the UC system to meet their demands but the UAW will not interfere with commencement activities.

“Graduation is up to the UC. If the UC wants to continue to graduation by all means. I don’t know if the student protestors have plans for that,” said Gross.

Some at the picket line Friday disagreed with the UAW’s tactics. 

“The union bureaucracy is in the pocket of the democratic party which is a wing of the ruling class,” said Will West, a Trotskyist from Berkeley City College selling newspapers.

These disagreements were on display on the first days of the strike when protesters blocked the road up to campus. According to Gross these were the undergraduates in “the encampment” who moved their tents down to the picket line. On Friday the road up to campus was open.

“It’s the same struggle and the same fight,” said Jaguar, a second year biology student. “Even though we are going to have our disagreements about tactics and stuff, overall we are all in this together.”

The UAW supports the undergraduate protestors and after the strike began on Monday released a page on the UAW 4811’s website titled, “How UC can Engage with the Broader Protest Movement.” 

These demands are separate from the labor complaints and call for the UC system to negotiate with the protesters, and to divest from arms manufacturers and companies “profiting from Israel’s war in Gaza.”

“These demands might not seem related directly to the unfair labor practices but they are all related to the same issue,” said Gross.

People who participated in the 2019 and 2022 actions are still involved today, but Gross said new people are starting to join the effort.

“The idea that you could be brutalized by defending your undergrads really galvanized people and makes them really upset,” Gross said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

music in the park san jose
Good Times E-edition Good Times E-edition