Nearly 50,000 workers at the University of California went on strike Monday in the largest U.S. work stoppage of the year.
The strike will take place at each of the university system’s ten campuses as well as a research center, according to affiliates of the United Auto Workers union. They accused the university of “unlawful behavior” and bargaining in “bad faith.” The two sides have failed to reach an agreement on a new contract.
Rafael Jaime, president of UAW Local 2865, said the university and union made progress in negotiations over the weekend but remained “far apart” on crucial issues. Jaime’s union represents 18,000 of the roughly 48,000 workers involved in the strike.
“We are hopeful that UC will cease its unfair labor practices and bargain with us in good faith,” said Jaime, a doctoral candidate at the university.
It is not clear how long the strike may last.
The university said through a spokesperson that the campuses have been “preparing to mitigate the impact of any strike activity.”
“These employees make valuable contributions to the University’s teaching and research mission,” the statement said, “and we believe our offers of fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, among other proposals, are fair, reasonable, and responsive to the union’s concerns.”
The workers involved in the strike include teaching assistants, graduate student researchers, postdoctoral fellows and tutors, among others. Their unions have been pressing the university for higher pay, saying academic workers can’t afford to live in the communities where they teach and conduct research.
The UAW affiliates said the strike appeared to be the largest in U.S. academic history. They scheduled picket lines for Monday at university sites across the state.
Late last week, more than 30 California state legislators sent a letter to the university’s president, Michael Drake, urging him to reach a deal with the unions so that the “massive disruption” of a strike could be averted.
“The UC is one of the top public university systems and research institutions in the world, in no small part because of its ability to attract the most talented scholars from a wide array of backgrounds,” the lawmakers wrote. “But the UC system cannot live up to its mission and reputation if its own employees do not feel respected.”