SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It is estimated that nearly 48,000 thousand academic workers walked off the job at all ten campuses Monday, making this the largest strike so far of 2022 and the largest higher education strike in U.S. history.
"We want respect at this point, we want to be paid for the work that we do," said Emily Weintraut, teaching assistant and graduate student researcher.
Walking off the job after more than a year of negotiations.
Weintraut is among tens of thousands of post-doctoral scholars, academic researchers, and student employees with the University of California demanding a livable wage and childcare benefits.
“Inflation has been horrendous this past year," said Weintraut. "We just a lot of it is that just that we want respect at this point, we want to be paid for the work that we do.”
Academic workers on the picket line say they do more than half of the research and teaching on campuses, yet account for only 1% of the UC system budget.
They're demanding 3%.
Union leaders say some workers make as little as $24,000 a year.
“I think the university does not value us right now," said Diana Sernas, teaching assistant, and graduate student researcher.
The UC system is the third biggest employer in California, and this strike marks the largest strike in the country since 2019.
“What it signals is that at all levels of employment classifications, all levels of wages, that workers are frustrated, and that includes workers who, you know, have kind of degrees, you know, they feel that they're being undervalued by their employer," said Fabrizio Sasso with Sacramento Central Labor Council.
Labor experts say we’re in the midst of a resurgence in labor unions. Public support for labor unions is at an all-time high of 71% since 1965, according to a recent Gallup poll. Union election petitions increased by 58% in the first three quarters of 2022.
Risa Lieberwitz, professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and labor relations says the pandemic is a large driver.
Some people lost their jobs. Others were deemed essential but faced unsafe working conditions with low wages.
"I think that that kind of that opened people's eyes to the realities that they were facing every day,” said Lieberwitz.
Compound that with low unemployment, and high inflation.
“The businesses are raking in profits," said Lieberwitz. "But the workers aren't sharing in that in that. And so the lack of fairness, around the distribution of wealth and profits is also something that we're face to face with.”
Labor experts though say you can’t deny the resurgence of activity —especially in industries that historically haven’t been involved greatly involved in unionization. Think Starbucks and higher education. Professor Lieberwitz predicts this increase in support and organizing will increase the number of unionized workers across the country.
Meanwhile, those on the picket line say the UC hasn’t been bargaining in good faith.
The UC’s office of the president sent this statement, saying in part:
“We have listened carefully to UAW priorities with an open mind and a genuine willingness to compromise. Negotiations are progressing, and many tentative agreements have been reached on key issues such as a respectful work environment and health and safety matters.”