“Insulted, degraded, angry, humiliated.” 

UCSC Lecturer, Roxi Power at the 2002 UC-AFT Strike. Courtesy of Roxi Power.

These words cascaded down the Zoom chat from UC American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) affiliates as they typed their responses to the UC Office of the President’s (UCOP) ignoring their requests for rehiring rights during this April’s bargaining sessions. As they prepare to strike, over 200 UC-AFT members and allies gathered for a virtual “May Day” rally on the morning of May 1.

The event hosted speakers who highlighted the importance of collective action, bringing together lecturers throughout the UC system.

“It’s really joyful when people come together with common cause and purpose, with the conviction that we’re fighting the good fight to improve our university,” said UC-AFT President Mia McIver. “What’s motivating this is that we are guardians of education for the UC, and the UC is falling down on its mission right now, not living up to its ideals.” 

During the rally, she led the group in a chant, which echoed through the Zoom room: “When we fight, we win.” 

Over the past month, UC-AFT has met in five contract bargaining sessions with the UC Office of the President (UCOP), who left its demand for increased job security among other things unaddressed. Union leaders said the university’s unwillingness to budge during contract negotiations has pushed them toward a systemwide strike. 

During the rally, organizers repeatedly encouraged lecturers to sign the strike pledge as well as discuss signing it with their colleagues. UCSC lecturer and UC-AFT escalation team and contract committee member Joshua Brahinsky said that as they continue to gather signatures, UC-AFT will move toward a strike vote that will determine if the bargaining team can declare a strike if they see fit. 

At the end of the event, organizers announced they hit the day’s signature goal, though more are needed before the union votes to strike. UC-AFT President Mia McIver said that while the number of signatures and participants’ names remain private, they are continuing to receive strike pledges. 

This is not the first time that UC-AFT veterans have dealt with this process. UC Santa Cruz lecturer Roxi Power was part of the UC-AFT strike in 2002, which began when the lecturers’ contract had been expired for three years. After striking for two days in 2002, UC-AFT secured the basic job security lecturers have today.   

“I was appalled when I arrived here in 1998 at the second-class citizenship that I experienced,” said Power. “I vowed, then that if I ever got [a continuing appointment], I would fight tirelessly on behalf of my pre-continuing colleagues. […] And so the last 19 years, I’ve been involved in several contract campaigns working mostly for that.”

UC-AFT flier for 2002 strike. Courtesy of Roxi Power

Power drew parallels between the 2002 strike and the current situation, pointing out the common turning points of being out of contract for such a long period of time and the unresponsiveness of the university. Power said that the amount of deep organizing and widespread support has not changed in the past two decades, also noting the similar worries expressed by some lecturers in losing their job if they chose to strike.

During the rally, Power urged her colleagues to sign the strike pledge, and not to back down in fear. She emphasized that by acting collectively, they won’t be singled out for firing. 

Jeb Purucker, Santa Cruz field representative for UC-AFT, said that after facing another stalemate in a bargaining session on April 29, there continues to be a lot of frustration among members. The May Day Zoom rally sought to uplift members to remind them what they are fighting for. 

“The goal of the rally is to get people pumped up for what comes next,” Purucker said. “We’re at a phase in the campaign where the goal is to intensify what unions should be doing all the time, which is getting workers talking to each other about what they’re willing to do for jobs.”

As the rally came to a close, “Solidarity Forever” by Joe Glazer played. The words “Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong,” played loud and clear as members swayed back and forth across the screen and slowly began logging off. 

“That rally was for us. For us to say to each other we love each other, and we’re gonna care for each other,” Joshua Brahinsky said. “We need to win rehiring rights. The UC is not taking our demands seriously and it’s been two years. It’s time to tell them that we’re ready to shut the campus down if they don’t bargain in good faith.”