The first days of the largest strike in the history of higher education are over.

The strike was authorized with 98 percent approval from UC graduate students and academic student workers on Nov. 3. The UC-wide strike is in response to unethical labor practices enacted by the University of California relating to union demands from UAW-2865, UAW-2810, and SRU. 

Combined, the three unions represent 48,000 graduate student instructors, teaching assistants, tutors, readers, researchers, fellows, and postdoctoral scholars. 

UAW Academic Workers have made the following demands of the UC:

  • A minimum salary of $54,000 for all graduate student workers 
  • A minimum salary of $70,000 for post doctoral fellows
  • A 14 percent salary increase for academic researchers
  • Annual cost of living adjustments and experience-based increases

Jack Davies, the current unit chair of UAW 2865 in Santa Cruz and a PhD student in the history of consciousness department at UCSC, explained what it would take for UAW members to cease withholding their labor.  

“In these months of bargaining, University has committed a series of unfair labor practices of them just not bargaining in good faith, fairly and seriously over our demands, for which we filed charges with the public employees relations board,” said Davies on the picket line. “The easiest way to resolve that is to start the reversal of these practices that they’ve done so far, and bring real progress on the table.”

On  Nov. 15, the University of California sent out a document to propose mediation to facilitate an agreement with the unions. 

In an email outlining day two of the strike, UAW 2865 President Rafael Jaime responded to the mediation attempts. 

“At this point, the priority should be round-the-clock bargaining in good faith as opposed to switching to a mediation process. We remain willing and able to meet with the University on an ongoing basis to reach a resolution.” 

The First Days on the Picket Line at UCSC

The crisp morning air brought graduate students, bundled in sweatshirts and jackets, to the patchy grass in front of the redwood sign, where picket signs and posters were piled high. Colleagues and peers drank coffee and embraced each other in support as strikers began walking the crosswalks that mark the square of the intersection at High and Bay. 

By 8 a.m. on Monday Nov. 14, roughly 50 people had convened for the picket at the base of campus. Academic Student Workers (ASEs) were joined in solidarity by faculty, undergraduate peers, students, and Santa Cruz residents. 

“These things are always stronger when all campus workers stand together,” said Jeb Purucker, a field representative for the lecturers’ union, UC American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT). “Graduate students were out for us in a big way during our contract campaign last year. And so I think that solidarity means reciprocating that.”

By 9 a.m., there were upwards of 90 people at the base of campus. The folding tables began to fill with food as Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs, arrived with a car full of food for strikers and supporters: oatmeal, pastries, hard-boiled eggs, and sandwiches. The Santa Cruz chapter of Food Not Bombs is continuing to provide hot meals to folks downtown, and bringing leftovers to the picket line. 

Along with McHenry and Food Not Bombs, UCSC Basic Needs brought down stacks of individual meals in to-go boxes. As the day went on, the food table was never bare. 

By noon, 300 people were gathered at the picket line for a rally facilitated by sociology PhD student, Sarah Mason, who invited speakers to take the stand.

Associate professor of sociology Steven McKay, took the mic with the chant “Whose University?” “Our University!” the crowd echoed back. McKay used his time at the mic to express support from faculty to the striking workers. 

Other speakers included Stefan Yong, one of the Santa Cruz UAW bargaining representatives, who shared his experience this past weekend bargaining with the UC’s lawyers. 

“We want 64k a year and they offered 7%,” said Yong. The crowd booed in unison. “7% won’t pay the rent.” 

The crowd in turn chanted the slogan back to him.

The rally came to a close with Mason handing the mic over to third-year history of consciousness PhD student Robin Jones. 

“Workers on Strike! The UC is Terrified!” chanted Jones. 

Music grew louder as the crowd chanted to the beat. People danced, clapped, and raised their signs to the music. The 300 some students, teachers, supporters, and peers thundered from the base of UCSC in a unified voice.

Eighth-year anthropology PhD student Kalina Kassadjikova shared a message towards students who may feel unsure regarding their stance on the strike, in hopes that people will consider the bigger picture when placing blame. 

“[The strike] is not the cause of classes getting canceled, sections getting canceled, and the campus being difficult to access,” Kassadjikova said. “This is a symptom of a much larger problem. This is what happens when the administrative structure of the UC is what it is. This is what it results in.” 

Jack Davies is one of two UC Santa Cruz UAW-2865 representatives. Photo by Lucy Wald.

Cars honked in support as they passed by striking Academic Student Employees. Faculty marched to the picket with a banner expressing solidarity. “Fuck U, Pay Me!” multiple signs read. The day marched on just as the strikers continued to picket, chant, and eat. 

As the day waned, the signs piled up, waiting for the next day. 

In a closing message at the day one debrief, Davies posed one final question to the crowd: “Will I see you all here tomorrow at the picket line?”