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University of California workers reach tentative deals as strike enters third week

Elina Wells, a union representative with UAW 5810, leads chants at UCSF Parnassus branch hospital and medical school, while approximately 50,000 grad students, TAs and researchers protest for for better wages, benefits and contracts on Nov. 14, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The end of a weekslong strike by academic workers at the University of California may be on the horizon after two bargaining units reached tentative agreements with the university system that include wage increases and other benefits. 

The work stoppage—which is the largest higher education strike in the country’s history—has been a major disruption to university operations with a growing number of classes canceled in solidarity with strikers.

Concerns about the impact of the strikes were growing as campuses headed toward the end of the term, which involves a rush of final papers, projects and exams. 

Two bargaining units representing academic researchers and postdocs have reached tentative agreements that span five years and include compensation increases, eight weeks of parental and family leave at 100% pay, and anti-bullying protections, among other benefits. There are a total of four UC bargaining units, backed by the United Auto Workers, that are part of the strike. 

“These agreements show that we’re ready to make agreements when the UC gives us serious proposals,” said Neal Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5810. “We think it is the start of reconsideration of how academic workers are treated across the country.”

The two units include around 12,000 workers at the UC, with around 37,000 workers still working toward an agreement. 

“These agreements also uphold our tradition of supporting these employees with compensation and benefits packages that are among the best in the country,” Letitia Silas, executive director of systemwide labor relations for UC, said in a statement.

The tentative agreements must be ratified by the union membership before being officially approved. The workers will remain on strike until the contracts are ratified and in a show of solidarity with their colleagues who are still in negotiations. 

Bargaining units representing student researchers and academic student employees are still hammering out agreements with the university, but union representatives say they expect “substantial offers” to be made soon. 

Striking academic workers described living hand-to-mouth, given low pay and the sky-high costs of living in the Bay Area. 

The strike kicked off on Nov. 14 and included nearly 50,000 academic workers across the 10 campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The action was called in response to a number of complaints to the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) alleging unfair practices by the University of California, like failing to respond to requests for information, trying to circumvent the established bargaining process and tearing down union posters in the run-up to the strike vote. 

On Monday, the union organized a march to the UC president’s office in Oakland that included thousands of academic workers.