Tens of thousands of University of California workers, including researchers, postdoctoral scholars, teaching assistants and graders, went on strike Monday, a move that could shut down some classes and laboratories just weeks ahead of final exams.
Leaders of United Auto Workers unions representing the workers have informed the UC Office of the President of their intent to strike at all of UC's 10 campuses starting Monday if they are unable to reach an agreement with the university.
UAW bargaining units began picketing at 8 a.m. Monday. Nearly 98% of the 36,558 members voted to approve the strike authorization, according to the union.
Compensation is a key issue in the labor dispute.
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"Extremely low compensation - many workers make less than $24,000 a year - is leaving workers severely rent-burdened and struggling to remain in academia. UC's failure to support a diverse workforce undermines the quality of research and education across the system," Rafael Jaime, president of UAW 2865, said earlier this month. The union represents more than 19,000 teaching assistants, tutors and readers.
Union officials describe the strike as the largest ever by academic workers in the U.S.
"UC has left us no choice but to escalate our campaigns," said Neal Sweeney, president of UAW 5810, which represents more than 11,000 postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers.
Sweeney said earlier this month that negotiations have dragged on for more than a year.
"But rather than coming to fair agreements, the University has engaged in a wide variety of unlawful tactics," he said. "The UAW locals at UC have been forced to file more than 20 unfair labor practices to address their refusal to provide the information we need to bargain unilateral changes to our working conditions and more."
Sweeney's and other unions involved in the action are affiliated with the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.
UC Berkeley has set up a strike website with "guidance and associated FAQs that will be updated periodically," according to a statement issued Thursday by Benjamin E. Hermalin, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of UC Berkeley, and Eugene Whitlock, Chief People & Culture Officer at UC Berkeley. The site is not accessible to the general public.
"Campus leaders have been providing guidance to deans, chairs, instructors and researchers to help ensure continuity of instruction and research in the event of a strike," Hermalin and Whitlock said.
According to the public-facing UC website, "UC continues to negotiate in good faith with the union and is committed to working collaboratively with the UAW to finding solutions to outstanding issues."
Ryan King, a spokesperson for the University of California Office of the President, said earlier this month, "Our primary goal in these negotiations is achieving multiyear agreements that recognize these employees' important and highly valued contributions to the University's teaching and research mission with fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, and a supportive and respectful work environment."
NBC Bay Area reached out to the University of California for a comment Saturday, but did not hear back.