This week, unionized teaching assistants, graduate students, academic researchers, academic student employees and other related employees chose to go on strike at the University of California system. Ten campuses underneath the state university system are affected, with grades not being recorded, classes halted, and research projects put on hold.
Americans for Fair Treatment reported that the 48,000 workers, whose union is the United Auto Workers (UAW), officially went on strike on Monday, November 14. The UAW historically represented auto workers, such as workers found in Ford plants, and other blue-collar technician workplaces. But the union has since expanded into academia.
The striking workers issued a list of demands to university administrators, which are as follows:
- Double their current salary from $24,000 annually to $54,000
- Free transit passes
- Enact wage increases tied to housing costs
- Exempt international students from non-resident tuition fees
The university issued a statement that it is negotiating with the union in good faith and it working to end the strike.
The strike affects most, if not all, of its ten campuses in places like Berkeley, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz. The media, in outlets such as Politico, emphasized that this strike is the largest walkout in U.S. higher education history.
But when one looks at the unionized workers’ demands, they appear to be unreasonable if not unrealistic.
For example, doubling current salary for 48,000 workers will likely lead to rising tuition rates throughout the university system, which could worsen the student loan debt crisis. Also, free transit passes are very costly and can also add to rising tuition rates if the universities have to subsidize transit passes for 48,000 employees. The striking workers appear to want special treatment, with their wage increases tied to housing costs, which is not typically done in the public or private sector. The same applies for exempting international students from non-resident tuition fees, as it would place international students in a separate category than other types of students in the University of California system.
As background, graduate students went on strike for similar reasons in December 2019, and that dispute was not resolved until the spring of 2020. It meant that grades were not recorded for several months, which likely affected students’ grades and graduation plans.