University of California Academic Worker Strike Could Be Labor Turning Point

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Even outside of academia, as public support for organized labor has reached a 50-year high, unions have used their bargaining power this year to make inroads at high-profile companies such as Amazon and Starbucks.

However, Voos said, the oversupply of graduate students, especially in the humanities, puts universities in a position of strength in labor negotiations. “The students are vulnerable because they need recommendations from professors, they’re afraid for their future, the academic labor market is not very good right now,” she said.

Conversely, the bleak prospects in academia may be contributing to graduate students’ determination to secure better working conditions now, Voos said. “Sacrificing now for tomorrow may not be such a great idea,” she said.

At U.C. Berkeley on Monday, Jack Schrott, a graduate student in the physics department, said he hoped successful negotiations would lead to improved conditions for academic workers across the country.

“The U.C. is an enormous producer of academic research and sets an example for the types of wages that academic workers earn,” Schrott, 26, said. “It won’t be possible for us to support research at our universities if this industry doesn’t elevate the wages of its workers.”

In a statement, the university system said that it recognized the workers’ “important and highly valued contributions” to its teaching and research mission and that it had provided “fair responses” on issues including pay, housing and a “respectful work environment.”

On Monday afternoon, the university system said it had proposed that a neutral, third-party mediator be brought into the negotiations, adding that under its current proposals, wages for U.C. academic employees “would be among the top of the pay scale” for public research universities, and “more comparable to private universities” such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.

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