The graduate student union, UAW 2865, voted on June 2 against holding a vote to authorize a labor strike. The union’s bargaining committee voted 10-8 against holding a vote. The following day, UAW 2865 tweeted that its members should continue to build support to get the university to bargain over housing and other issues.
The union started campaigning for an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) strike in early April as strike activities increased nationwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since February, graduate students throughout the university have participated in unauthorized strikes with #COLA4ALL, a grassroots movement sparked at UC Santa Cruz fighting for a cost of living pay increase.
If the vote had passed, graduate student workers would have needed to rally the support of two-thirds of union members to call for a labor strike, which likely would have occurred during finals week. The union’s official Twitter account tweeted that around 2,100 workers have pledged to go on strike, out of nearly 19,000 workers.
“Militant stands by a ‘vanguardist’ minority union of grad workers in the social sciences, arts, and humanities who strike, without the support of the majority of their co-workers, will not generate the power needed to beat our state’s largest employer…” wrote the 10 dissenting Bargaining Committee in a letter explaining their decision. “But this is an illusion. UC knows that 2,500 only represents a small fraction of our workforce, and will not concede to our bold demands on that basis alone.”
However, graduate students who pledged to strike accused union leadership of skewing the numbers to make the support behind a ULP strike appear weaker. The number of pledges to strike shared publicly only includes members currently working under the quarter system. A bargaining committee member also told The Triton that union leadership also did not factor out academic student workers who are not union members.
According to a bargaining committee member who supported the strike vote, the total number of strike pledges submitted is around 5,000.
For graduate student workers at UCSD, a ULP strike represents a more secure tactic for workers in precarious situations to pressure the university into negotiations. Some graduate students who initially planned on withholding grades as a part of a #COLA4ALL strike submitted them out of fear of losing income or health benefits during a pandemic and economic recession.
UC Santa Cruz fired at least 82 graduate workers for withholding Fall Quarter 2019 grades. Since then, the university has reinstated these workers’ health benefits after students with #COLA4ALL criticized the university for kicking graduate students off of their health plan during a pandemic.
In response to UCSC’s firing, UAW 2865 filed two ULP charges alleging that the university unjustly terminated striking workers and illegally attempted to bypass negotiating with the union. Notably, a ULP strike can only be used to pressure an employer into correcting the alleged unfair labor practices.
In addition to advocating for COLA and fighting unfair labor practices, UAW 2865 recently joined with student activists nationwide calling for police reform at universities to follow the lead set by the University of Minnesota and sever all ties with their local police departments.
After tweeting the results of the bargaining committee vote, UAW 2865 tweeted that although they support defunding and demilitarizing the UC Police Department, the ULP strike would not provide a legally protected tactic to fight for it.
“Unions like ours play a critical role in condemning racism and taking action to end it,” said UAW 2865 in a statement on the killing of George Floyd. “As workers, we can hold powers far bigger than any one of us accountable to our demands: to a society that is truly equitable and just, where no black person is murdered at the hands of the police.”
In an open letter to union leadership, signed by at least 125 striking graduate students, ULP called for the resignation of the 10 bargaining team members who opposed the strike authorization vote. According to the signatory graduate students, a ULP strike would have focused on the UCPD’s treatment of striking workers at UCSC, many of whom are undocumented or organizers of color.
According to an investigation by VICE, the state national guard provided UCPD with military-grade surveillance technology, typically used to track US troops in military combat, to monitor the students on strike at UC Santa Cruz.
“This discipline was handed down through the same channels that now command UCPD forces to quell protests across the state,” wrote the pledge signatories in the letter. “It is now clearer than ever that by following our [UAW 2865] leaders’ inaction, we will perpetuate the very culture of anti-Blackness and oppression that our rank-and-file so desperately seeks to overthrow.”
UC Davis Sociology PhD Student and former head union steward Blu Buchanan criticized the union’s calls for police accountability demanding the union first address internal allegations of anti-Blackness. She tweeted that UAW 2865 stopped fighting for UC police disarmament in their last labor contract due to leadership believing it did not appeal to the majority of union members.
In the same Twitter thread, UC Davis Sociology PhD Student Duane Wright tweeted that UAW 2865 dismissed demands for demilitarization and disarmament of the UCPD as “nonmaterial” and “ideological” during contract negotiations.
“If you’re subject to police brutality, that’s pretty material,” said Wright in an interview with The Triton. “For [union leadership], I think they view ‘material’ as purely economic.”
The union has not responded to Buchanan’s call to address allegations of anti-Blackness but has continued to express support for defunding the police at the UC and other higher education institutions.