University of California strike ends as workers win big pay raises and new contracts

An unprecedented 40-day strike over wages and working conditions by tens of thousands of academics at the University of California (UC) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory system was resolved two days before Christmas. The new contracts for academic researchers and post-docs will be valid until September 30, 2027, and for academic salaried students (ASE) and postgraduate researchers (GSR) until May 31, 2025.

The strike was the largest college strike in US history. He froze research and many teaching activities at UC’s 10 campuses and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which accounts for more than 8% of total research spending in US higher education. These institutions accept about 10% of postdocs in the country.

Unions representing postdocs and university researchers at UC, representing about 12,000 of the university’s 48,000 workers who had picketed in early November, reached an agreement with the university system and returned to work on Dec. 12. Under the new five-year contract, UC postdocs receive raises of 20-23%, followed by annual salary increases of at least 3.5%.

The lowest-paid postdocs in the university system earned $54,500 (£44,860), but they are all expected to earn more than $70,000 when their contracts end. Meanwhile, the typical UC university researcher is expected to see annual salary increases of up to 29% over five years.

The new contracts for UC postdocs and researchers also include protections against abuse and violence in academia, additional safeguards for employees with disabilities, and improvements to fully paid parental and family leave to eight weeks starting in 2023.

Good luck to working students

As of mid-December, despite significant gains for postdocs and researchers, 36,000 ASEs and GSRs were still trying to reach an agreement with the university. That standoff ended Dec. 23 after the unions reached a two-and-a-half-year deal that included a 7.5% pay increase for teaching assistants (TAs) and adjunct instructors, and an 8.9% increase for retirees.

As of October 1, 2024, the lowest salary for a TA at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and UC Los Angeles will be $36,500. In addition, associate professors and teaching staff in the university system will receive a 16.7% salary.

Most RSGs will now see wages increase by 10% in the first year of the contract and 6.4% annually thereafter. By 2024, new GSRs, hired at half the rate of a full-time employee, will earn $34,500, though they almost always work longer than expected. Unions said the terms of the new contracts provide for significant pay increases for all UC employees, up to 80% for the lowest-paid.

UC employees will now receive eight weeks of paid leave a year to cover serious health conditions and family concerns, along with reimbursement for child care and subsidized transportation. Experts say these developments in California could lead to reforms in higher education in the United States and beyond.

“In response to suggestions from the university’s union and after evaluating other leading research institutions in the country, UC has restructured and improved its support programs to better align with institutions of higher education at the same level,” the UC president’s office said in a statement. . “These improvements reflect the important role these student workers play and the university’s commitment to supporting its graduate students as they earn their master’s and doctoral degrees.”

Ray Curry, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), with which UC workers negotiated with UC, called the new contracts a “huge victory” for UAW members as well as “all university employees.” Mike Miller, who heads the UAW region that includes California, is equally enthusiastic. “These agreements set a new standard for institutions of higher education in the United States,” he said.

Miller said unions make sense for college workers because issues like low pay, inconsistent benefits and unfair working conditions don’t go away on their own. “We look forward to building on the strength of these new agreements to improve the quality of life for every employee at UC and other universities,” he said.

The problems extend beyond the United States. At the end of November, more than 70,000 academic staff at 150 UK universities went on strike for three days over similar concerns over pay and working conditions, as well as pensions.

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