UC strike over, but questions remain over new contracts

Royce Hall at UCLA, one of four original buildings at the university's Westwood campus. (Photo: Ken Wolter, via Shutterstock)

The longest walkout in the history of U.S. higher education is over, but a critical question remains: Will the new contracts do enough to improve the living and working conditions that drove the academic workers to launch the 40-day strike?

On Dec. 23, 19,000 teaching assistants, graders, readers and tutors in United Auto Workers Local 2865, and 17,000 student researchers in Student Researchers United-UAW ratified new labor contracts with the University of California.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the former state Senate leader, served as mediator.

The vote tally for UAW 2865 was 11,386 to 7,097 in favor of the agreement. The SRU-UAW vote was 10,057 to 4,640 for ratification. According to the terms of each agreement, the strike is finished. UAW workers can return to their employment with gains in compensation, childcare subsidies and paid leaves, plus new protections against bullying and discrimination.

“The University of California welcomes the ratification of these agreements with our valued graduate student employees,” according to Letitia Silas, executive director of system wide labor relations. “The University believed that the assistance of a third-party mediator would help the parties reach agreement, which is why we are so grateful that the union accepted our invitation to mediation and partnered with us in selecting Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg to serve as the mediator.”

Steinberg was did not comment on what was the key to mediating the 40-day strike.  According to UC, it had made eight formal requests for neutral private mediation before the UAW agreed to engage with the capital city’s current mayor and former state Senate leader on Dec. 9.

He began his Ph.D. pursuit in 2016, earning $22,000 annually and paying 69% of his wage-income back to UC.

For Emily Weintraut, a second-year Ph.D. student in food science at UC Davis, the new contracts will make UC a much more equitable place. “I have had to work two or three extra jobs to support myself,” she said on a Dec. 24 Zoom call. She hopes that the higher pay will end her necessity to hold multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Michael Dean, a seventh year Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA, joined Weintraut on the call. “The wage gains in the new contract are the most broadly felt issue,” according to him. Dean is filing his dissertation in May 2023 and will not be working under the new contract for long. He began his Ph.D. pursuit in 2016, earning $22,000 annually and paying 69% of his wage-income back to UC, his employer, to live in student housing. Such rental economics fueled the UC strike.

Within 90 days of ratification, UC teaching assistants and associate instructors will get a 7.5% pay hike. Teaching fellows will get an 8.9% bump. Hourly academic student employees will get 5% to 8% increases. By Oct. 1, 2024, the minimum nine-month salary for teaching assistants with a 50% time appointment will be $34,000. By Oct. 1, 2024, the minimum salary rate for UC Berkeley, UCSF, and UCLA teaching assistants will reach $36,500. Associate instructors and teaching fellows will receive a 16.7% increase.

There is more. The union ratification of the two contracts also ends the Unfair Labor Practice complaints over violations of labor law that the UAW had filed against UC via California’s Public Employee Relations Board.

“A $2 raise is not enough to end our poverty wages. The ratified contract does not address our concerns, nor does it improve our living conditions.” — Menelik Tafari

The two UAW contracts just ratified with UC will run through May 31, 2025. In the 10-campus UC system, UAW 5810 representing postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers ratified a new five-year agreement with the University in voting that ended on Dec. 9.

Menelik Tafari, 32, is a fourth year Ph.D. student in urban schooling, graduate student researcher, organizer and teacher assistant at UCLA. He is critical of the contract ratifications.

“Academic workers who joined to fight for COLA4ALL, community safety addressing police violence, international and undocumented workers who have to pay non-resident supplemental tuition, disabled workers fighting for the UC to comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and those graduating at the end of this year are feeling really disappointed and abandoned,” he said.

“A $2 raise is not enough to end our poverty wages. The ratified contract does not address our concerns, nor does it improve our living conditions, as 80%-90% of us will continue to be rent burdened, and housing and food insecure through the life of the contract. Parents will only see a $100 annual increase in childcare, or $25 per quarter, which can barely pay for an additional hour of care, and unable to use the childcare services on our UC campuses due to cost. Nor will our healthcare cover our children over 12 years old or our spouses.

“The results have left thousands crestfallen, seeing that solidarity for the most vulnerable disappear entirely. Despite the dire straits we’re left in, we’ve seen hundreds recommit to restructure our union, and coordinate mutual and direct aid campaigns to supplement those in need.”

Dean has a different view. The UAW members who work for UC will have more money in their pockets to pay their bills, thanks to the new contract ratifications, according to him. “I am proud of what we have accomplished together,” according to him, giving a nod to the collective efforts of tens of thousands of workers.

“While the strike lasted six weeks,” according to Weintraut, “the new contracts were years in the making to what we have now. I am so proud of us. The work is not over.”

Editor’s Note: Seth Sandronsky lives and works in Sacramento. He is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email



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