On Tuesday, April 26, over 100 graduate students, academic workers and allies protested at Hinderaker Hall for a “fair workplace” under the UC system. This was part of a UC-wide demonstration in which about 48,000 Academic Student Employee Union members across California rallied under the same cause, hence their proclamation “48,000 strong.”

At the Berkeley campus, 800 workers surrounded Chancellor Carol Christ’s office. The movement at UCLA caught public attention as protestors blocked an intersection, to which the LAPD deemed it “unlawful assembly” and arrested multiple attendees. Media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Fox 5, Politico and spanish-language network Univision have reported on the movement.

The protest at Riverside’s campus did not go unnoticed. As the march moved from the Bell Tower to Hinderaker Hall, handheld signs included calls like “Raise Pay, Not Rent” and “Housing 4 All.” Some were pitched atop strollers, stating “Make UC More Family Friendly.” While occupying the outside of Chancellor Wilcox’s office for an hour, they were eventually met by Vice Chancellor Gerry Bomotti.

They called for climate change relief by making transit more accessible around campus, but that’s just one of many issues. The demands from UAW 2865 were eliminating rent burden, incorporating protections from workplace harassment, such as bullying and racism, improved accessibility for the disabled, supportive pay for scholars with children and support for international scholars, such as waiving non-resident fees.

The main purpose was to call for the UC administration to recognize them as a union and to push for a contract, according to UCR Ph.D candidate and UAW 2865 member, Somchate Wasantwisut.

The movement included 7,000 post-doctoral students, 5,000 academic researchers, 19,000 teaching assistants and 17,000 members of Student Researchers United. “With that, there are 48,000 of us academic workers for the first time, negotiating a contract centered around giving us an equitable and fair workplace,” said Wasantwisut.

The most common shared issue among these workers and scholars is related to wage, inflation and rent. The L.A. area inflation rose prices by 8.5% since a year ago, and Wasantwisut says the UC proposed a 4% raise in wage. “That’s nothing to offset rising housing costs. We are trying to lift every academic worker out of the rent burden,” he said.

The UC system is the fourth largest employer in California, as the L.A. Times compares it to the unionization efforts of Amazon warehouse workers and Starbucks baristas. The UCs are also essentially one of the biggest landlords, as UAW 2865 officer Gaby Barrios told the Times. 

According to a survey by UCR’s Graduate Student Association, 35.6% of graduate students pay 30% of their income to housing, while another 25% pay more than 60% of their income. Of these respondents, 60.4% identified as Ph.D candidates.

This is a double-take for those who have children, as they argue for expanded paid family leave, extending healthcare clauses for dependents and enough base pay to cover general childcare. 

The union questions where the UC allocates their funding. Last month, the system bought UC President Drake a $6.5 million Berkeley mansion and established it as the new official residence for future presidents. The purchase was made using the UC private fund, which is contributed to by donors with the intention of improving the system’s facilities. The headquarters have also been handing out raises by 6% to 28% to chancellors, which they deemed necessary because “UC chancellors are underpaid compared with the leaders of similar institutions across the country,” according to the higher education journal EdSource.

On top of the wage conflict, international researchers are burdened with non-resident fees, which amounts from two to three times that of their domestic peers. “International Ph.D students make up over a third of the graduate student population at the UC. For UCR, it is 35%, and it is likely to be higher for S.T.E.M. fields,” said Wasantwisut, “We are doing world-class research and instruction at the university, while also paying taxes.” This leaves international doctorate students with a time constraint, as they are often provided with a funding package that lasts around three years, so they are under pressure to complete their studies within that period while local faculty can spend more time as they please.

There is room for academic advisors to exploit international students because if one were to perform poorly, the student would be at a strict timeline and be unable to switch advisors. 

The UC’s Title IX enforcements are argued to fail at delivering closure for harassment and discrimination cases. An affected student at UC San Diego shared on a written sign, “I told my program chair the issues of  abuse, and he told me a Ph.D might not be for me.”

The point of the state-wide assembly was so the UC system would consistently answer to all academic workers of each campus. “It’s so the university could not divide us,” Wasantwisut stated.

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