Nearly 48,000 workers for the University of California system went on strike Monday as they called upon the wealthy state college system to provide higher wages and better working conditions to its academic employees, including researchers, teaching assistants, graders, and tutors.
The walkout, the largest in the United States this year, comes as California has been grappling with rapidly rising housing costs and higher gas prices. Despite significantly higher living costs in recent years, the University of California has not increased its academic workers’ compensation.
According to the UAW, the union coordinating the strike, many student employees are paid at rates that are far lower than their housing costs. As a result, many academic workers are forced into hours-long commutes because they are unable to afford to live even somewhat close to their university.
Some, including Bernard Remollino, a teaching assistant at the University of California–Los Angeles, have ended up homeless.
“The decision to live in my car, it wasn’t easy,” he said in a video released by the UAW. “I started out living in UCLA grad student housing where rent cost 85% of my salary. It was totally unsustainable, choosing not to eat two nights, three nights in a row.”
Other UC employees have said they must resort to selling blood plasma in order to make ends meet. The average annual pay for UC academic workers is $23,247. Striking employees are demanding a minimum salary of $54,000 for graduate employees, cost-of-living increases, and transportation subsidies.
Officials with the university have vowed to keep its 10 campuses open during the work stoppage but several professors have cancelled instruction or moved to online in solidarity with the strikers.
“It’s painful to walk away from my research,” Jack Olmstead, a neuroscience researcher at the University of California–San Diego, told TYT. “I would very much prefer to be working in the lab, but UC’s positions and illegal actions during negotiations have given us no choice but to strike.”
Union officials have accused the university of repeatedly violating labor laws by going around UAW leaders in negotiations and making changes to working conditions without collective bargaining.
“Our bargaining team has been in marathon sessions with UC throughout the weekend, and I feel good that we’ll win a fair contract after such a strong display,” Olmstead said. “I’ll be out there every day until UC gives us the contract we deserve.
TYT National Correspondent Matthew Sheffield reports about politics, media, and technology. Follow him on Twitter: @mattsheffield.