Will University of California Academic Workers End the Strike?

Initial demands by striking academic workers in the University of California system included cost-of-living adjustments tied to housing costs and a base pay of $54,000 a year for graduate students.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Last week, when the University of California and negotiators for striking academic workers announced a tentative agreement to end the work stoppage that began on Nov. 14, union representatives praised the proposed contract.

It was “a huge deal,” they said, with “incredible wage increases” that would finally give starving students a shot at paying the notoriously high rents, from San Diego to Berkeley.

Starting pay for graduate student researchers would leap nearly 57 percent to about $35,500 annually from about $22,000 over the next two years. The lowest-paid teaching assistants would start at about $34,000, far more than the current $23,000 or so. Pay for more experienced academic workers and those in particularly expensive areas would be substantially higher and come with broader workplace protections and greater benefits for health care, transportation and child care.

Not everyone on the 40-member bargaining team was on board, though.

Fifteen members voted against the deal, contending, among other issues, that the pay bumps and cost-of-living provisions were insufficient. They also felt that workers could win more given that they were part of the largest university-based walkout in national history. This week, as 36,000 rank-and-file teaching assistants, researchers and tutors voted on ratification, an opposition campaign emerged.

A Zoom call assembling critics drew several hundred participants. Calls to prolong the work stoppage went out across the 10-campus system. “I am part of hundreds of rank-and-file workers at Davis, and thousands across the U.C. system, who are fighting for something more — a truly fair contract,” Cole Manley, a doctoral candidate at U.C. Davis, wrote to me in an email.

Significant opposition appeared to arise from U.C. Santa Cruz, where a “wildcat” strike — one conducted without the backing of the union — representing the workers statewide ended three years ago with the firing of more than 70 graduate students who had refused to turn in fall grades as part of the labor action. (Most were eventually reinstated.)

But pushback also materialized on high-cost campuses such as Santa Barbara and newer campuses such as Merced, where a substantial number of students are the first in their families to attend college.

“Now is not the time to settle — we must keep fighting and leverage our full might to win our demands!” a group of Berkeley students opposing ratification recently exhorted on a website under the logo “Strike to Win.”

Initial demands by the striking workers included cost-of-living agreements explicitly tied to housing costs in California and a base pay of $54,000 a year for graduate students. Base pay in the current proposal is much lower. Opponents of the deal also complain that too few of the benefits take effect in the first year of the agreement.

“One of the main issues I have is that the major salary increase will not come to fruition until 2024,” Samia Errazzouki, 34, a doctoral candidate in history at U.C. Davis, told me. “When I signed up and voted to authorize the strike, my understanding was that we were negotiating to see the fruits immediately.”

More on California

  • Wildfires: California avoided a third year of catastrophic wildfires because of a combination of well-timed precipitation and favorable wind conditions — or “luck,” as experts put it.
  • San Francisco’s Empty Downtown: Tech workers are still at home. The $17 salad place is expanding into the suburbs. Today San Francisco has what is perhaps the most deserted major downtown in America.
  • U.C. Employee Strike: The University of California and academic workers announced a tentative labor agreement, signaling a potential end to a high-profile strike that has disrupted the system for more than a month.
  • Los Angeles’s New Mayor: Karen Bass was sworn in as the first female mayor of the nation’s second-largest city in a ceremony that celebrated her historic win but also underscored the obstacles ahead.

Supporters of the proposed deal remain optimistic about ratification as the end of the voting window approaches on Friday.

“I’m really excited for this contract,” Aarthi Sekar, 34, a doctoral candidate in genetics and a member of the union bargaining team at U.C. Davis, said.

Besides the raises, she noted, student researchers, who unionized only recently, will get their first-ever contract, benefits for nonresident students will be codified for the first time and an often exploited student work force will finally get labor protections.

“It’s historic, frankly,” Ms. Sekar said. “To me, it’s transformative.”

For more:

  • The University of California and striking workers announced their tentative agreement last Friday.

  • Here’s the university system’s latest update on the strike, and here’s the union’s.

  • The dissent this week is reminding some labor observers of a wildcat strike that occurred a few years ago at U.C. Santa Cruz.

Debbie Toth, the chief executive of the nonprofit Choice in Aging in Pleasant Hill, with Tsilya Tankover, left, and Alexandr Makedonsky, both participants.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

If you read one story, make it this

In Contra Costa County, older residents explain why they haven’t gotten the bivalent dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and medical experts worry that there is no effective plan to update the immunizations of the most vulnerable Americans.

The Midway-Sunset oil field near Taft.Credit…Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • Direct democracy: Some California residents say they were misled into signing a petition for a pro-oil referendum, The Associated Press reports.

  • Paying more for lettuce: Climate change could make salads more expensive as lettuce farmers face increasing crop challenges, resulting in soaring prices, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Unused campaign funds: Nearly 100 accounts belonging to state political candidates hold about $35 million in leftover campaign cash, CalMatters reports.

  • Soak up the sun: Most of the country is bracing for a “bomb cyclone” that will bring blizzards and frigid weather this week, but California is actually going to have a winter warm spell, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.


  • Homelessness crisis: Leaders from the county and city of Los Angeles agreed to jointly support Mayor Karen Bass’s state of emergency over homelessness, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • U.S.C.: The University of Southern California’s education school was sued by former students who claim that officials violated state law by falsely advertising the graduate program’s high online degree ranking, The Los Angeles Times reports.


  • Monarch butterflies: More than 129,000 Western monarch butterflies were counted in San Luis Obispo County in November, more than at any other time in the past 20 years, The Sacramento Bee reports.


  • Earthquake update: Small North Coast communities that bore the brunt of a 6.4-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday remained without power and under boil-water advisories on Wednesday, The Associated Press reports.

  • Elayne Jones: The timpanist Elayne Jones, who was said to be the first Black principal player in a major American orchestra when she joined the San Francisco Symphony in 1972, died on Saturday.

  • Giant headache: Many San Francisco Giants fans were seething on Wednesday after waking up to the news that star shortstop Carlos Correa was heading instead to the New York Mets, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Credit…Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

What we’re eating

The $250 cookie recipe.

Two people walking a dog at Huntington Beach.Credit…Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Marc Solomon, who recommends the Huntington Dog Beach in Orange County:

Tell us

We’re writing about how Californians celebrate the holidays. Do you relax by the beach, visit Disneyland or make tamales with your family? Or maybe you always travel to a special spot within the Golden State?

Email us at [email protected] your California holiday traditions and memories. Please include your name and the city where you live.

We may include your email response in an upcoming newsletter or in print. By emailing us a response, you agree that you have read, understand and accept the Reader Submission Terms in relation to all of the content and other information you send to us (“Your Content”). If you do not accept these terms, do not submit any content.

Mee Heng Low Noodle House in San Luis Obispo.Credit…Allison Negrete

And before you go, some good news

Under a red neon sign advertising “chop suey,” a line of customers often forms. They’re waiting to enter Mee Heng Low Noodle House, one of the oldest and most revered Chinese restaurants in the country.

But the restaurant isn’t in San Francisco or Los Angeles. It’s in San Luis Obispo.

Mee Heng Low Noodle House opened 95 years ago, making it the longest continuously running Chinese restaurant on the Central Coast, SF Gate reports.

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia and Isabella Grullón Paz contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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