SAN DIEGO — Hundreds of academic workers chanting “Shut it down” and “We’ve got the power” marched through UC San Diego’s seaside campus Monday as one of the nation’s largest strikes in years entered its second week.
The walkout, which began Nov. 14, involves bargaining units representing nearly 48,000 teaching assistants, researchers and other employees at 10 UC campuses demanding higher wages and better benefits. No final date has been set for the strike, although officials from the United Automobile Workers, which represents academic workers, and the university say they have moved closer to reaching an agreement in the past few days.
The job action, which comes amid a wave of union activity across the country, could be a national turning point for the graduate students America’s universities have long relied on for relatively low wages.
In California in particular, these widespread problems have brought the extraordinarily high cost of living to a head. As my colleague Shawn Hubler has reported, UC campuses are located in some of the most expensive housing markets in the country, not just in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, but also in coastal enclaves like Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Irvine.
At UC San Diego, in the upscale La Jolla neighborhood, strikers weaved en masse through the eucalyptus trees on campus Monday afternoon. One protester carried his toddler on his shoulders. Some of the signs that the protesters put in the air read: “The rent is too damn high. “Education begins when exploitation ends.” “You can’t eat prestige.
Anoop Praturu, a third-year PhD student in biophysics, marched with the crowd and played the guitar to the chants. He told me that when his apartment flooded in the spring, he couldn’t easily find another because he didn’t make enough money to qualify for most rentals near campus.
For two months, 25-year-old Praturu alternately bumped into friends’ couches and slept in his car. He eventually found a place to live and now pays $1,200 a month to rent a bedroom in an apartment 15 miles from campus. After rent, food and gas, he didn’t have much left over from his $2,300 monthly salary.
“I often end up with less than nothing and go into debt just to be here,” he said, adding, “I can’t in good conscience tell someone to come here for their Ph.D. The cost of living is unsustainable.”
UC said in a statement that its primary goal is to “recognize the important and highly valued contributions of these employees” with fair pay and benefits, as well as a supportive and respectful work environment. University officials are also calling for private mediation to help secure the contract.
The proposals offered by the university “will place our graduate students and academic staff at the top of the pay scale across major public universities and on a par with top private universities,” the statement said. “While we have reached many tentative agreements with the union, we remain divided on key issues related to wage binding and housing cost pay increases and tuition waivers for non-resident international students.
More about California
- Jaywalking Law: California has one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the country. As of January 1, this will no longer apply.
- Rebuilding the river: The taming of the Los Angeles River helped Los Angeles develop as a global megalopolis, but it also left a gaping scar across the land. Imagining the river’s future presents new challenges.
- AND A Piece of Black History Destroyed: Lincoln Heights—a historically black community in a predominantly white rural county in Northern California—has endured for decades. Then came the Mill fire.
- Labor strike: In one of the nation’s largest strikes in recent years, teaching assistants, research assistants and other workers in the University of California system walked off the job demanding higher pay.
The strike over the past eight days has led to the cancellation of lectures and office hours and has slowed down research operations. The impacts have been particularly disruptive as finals are approaching for many.
Olivia Gunther, a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said that in the past few days, university officials have seemed increasingly willing to “meet us somewhere in the middle,” although there are still several issues that need to be resolved. Gunther is on the bargaining committee for her unit.
“We don’t know when the strike will end. It’s still open,” she told me Monday night. At least it appeared to continue on Tuesday.
Where are we traveling to?
Today’s tip comes from Deni Caster, who recommends the Fremont Historic District in the Bay Area:
“There is such a sense of community in Fremont’s Niles District.” Not only is there railroad history—where the Transcontinental ended and met the Central Pacific tracks—but many early westerns were filmed here. Every weekend, the Niles Essanay Film Museum shows silent films accompanied by piano. There is a California Nursery Historical Park where active trees and roses are kept. The area is surrounded by water, with a water channel with inflatable dams that divert storm water into these retention ponds. The addition of salmon ladders was completed last year. A beautiful walkable town with annual garden walks, a dog convention, a golf tournament, the annual Fremont Christmas Parade and an antique fair that has been going on for over 50 years.”
Tell us about your favorite places in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll share more in upcoming newsletter issues.
Have you recently bought or rented a home in California? We want to hear from you.
The New York Times’ weekly real estate column The Hunt features ordinary people who have just moved and want to share their stories. If that’s you, contact us at [email protected]
And before you go, some good news
There is a new giraffe at the Safari West breeding facility north of Santa Rosa.
When little Grace was born last month, she was 5 feet, 9 inches and weighed 127 pounds. She was already running around chasing cranes and guinea pigs, the reserve claims.
“We are really pleased with the new addition,” said Safari West founder Peter Lang. “Birth is always a real miracle.”