The University of California has consistently failed to meet the basic needs of student workers.
Despite their critical role in fostering a quality learning environment, student workers are still significantly undervalued, underpaid, and underpaid for their work.
UC simply cannot function without student staff, and it’s about time they realized that.
Academics from across the UC system have come together to make their demands not only heard, but impossible to ignore. United Auto Workers Local 2865, a UC student-worker union, is taking its demands to the picket line alongside UAW Local 5810 and Student Researchers United-UAW to simultaneously negotiate four separate contracts with the university for a fair workplace.
Some 48,000 academic staff — including teaching assistants, post-docs, tutors and researchers — have mobilized together to join the UC-wide strike and campaign for a just system that gives all workers the support and resources they deserve. The Los Angeles Times reports that it could be the largest faculty strike in US history.
The unions presented the university with a strong package of proposals, demanding higher wages, job security, transportation benefits, childcare reimbursements and more. Still, it’s evident that UC is making minimal efforts to reach a tentative settlement and meet the needs of struggling workers.
As a multibillion-dollar institution and the state’s third-largest employer, UC clearly has more than enough funds to raise wages and benefits for its employees. The university relies heavily on student labor, so its blatant disregard for the welfare and stability of its workers is not only unfair, but an inhuman act of exploitation.
It’s no surprise that UC consistently fails to fund its workers, yet unabashedly invests millions of dollars in high-earning elites while neglecting the needs of marginalized communities that would benefit significantly from increased funding.
While academics struggled to pay their rent and survive, the university bought a $6.5 million mansion for UC President Michael Drake.
In addition, UC invested more than $106 million in funding for its police department, which continues to disproportionately target people of color across UC campuses.
While meeting the voiced needs of student workers can cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year, UC estimates more than $40 billion annually. There is no doubt that the necessary funds are available.
UC picks and chooses where to allocate these immense funds, and its poor choices have deprived thousands of student workers of livable wages.
The university needs to redirect funds to the community to efficiently serve the academic staff who diligently maintain its high-level institutions.
With the cost of living soaring in Westwood and greater LA, 90% of academic staff spend more than a third of their income on rent, according to a UAW Local 2865 press release. Due to inflated rents, many student workers cannot afford housing on or near campus, resulting in additional expenses for public transportation or gasoline to get to work, for which the university does not compensate them.
In addition, research workers with children are burdened with extensive childcare costs, all of which have to be paid with their meager income. Despite the unions’ proposal for a $2,000 monthly childcare reimbursement, UC inappropriately proposed a reimbursement of $450 for graduate students and only $208 for postdoctoral students.
Enough is enough. Academics should not have to tirelessly fight pickets and deliberately disrupt the UC system in order for their basic humanity to be recognized and restored.
This reflects a broader systemic problem in the education system, where teachers – people with one of the most important careers in society – have historically been underappreciated, underpaid and overworked.
From teaching students to conducting research, it is the academic staff’s day-to-day contributions to the UC system that allow it to claim the titles it is proud of, such as: B. Being the home of the #1 public university in the country. As unions put it on their website, “UC works because we do it.”
The current deplorable working conditions at UCs will only persist if the university fails to meet the negotiation requirements of UAW Local 5810, UAW Local 2865 and SRU-UAW. UC has a unique opportunity to be on the right side of history and stand in solidarity with academics—and it can’t let it slip.
This groundbreaking decision is bigger than ourselves and the current UC system. It will create a fairer workplace for future generations and end the exploitation of future academic workers.
While 48,000 student workers can unite together on the picket line and fight for a better future, our future rests in the hands of the university to make a change that matters.
It’s time student workers were fairly paid, rewarded and valued for their contributions that drive the entire UC system forward.