University of California Sues Academic Workers Union for Ongoing Strikes

Published: June 6, 2024

The University of California is suing its graduate student workforce after a state labor board denied the school’s second attempt to order an immediate halt to ongoing strikes.

Employees with the United Auto Workers Local 4811, which represents 48,000 graduate teaching assistants, researchers, and other academic workers at UC’s 10 campuses, have been walking off the job since May 20 after alleging its members’ free speech rights were violated by UC’s actions and inactions during the dismantling of pro-Palestinian encampments at UCLA on May 1.

Following the melee, UC President Michael V. Drake ordered an independent review of the school’s planning, actions, and response by law enforcement, including why officials waited hours to intervene after counter-protesters threw heavy objects and launched fireworks at an encampment.

The group argues UC violated the union contract by creating an unsafe work environment through its response and continued disciplinary actions by UC campuses against student workers. The union is demanding UC drop disciplinary measures against student workers who participated in the protests.

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Student workers have led strikes on six campuses so far, including Santa Cruz, Davis, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Irvine.

UC Sues United Auto Workers Local 4811

UC officials sued the union on Monday, claiming the group is violating the “no-strike” provisions of its labor contract with the school and that the strikes will cause “irreparable harm” to the university’s ability to conduct business if they continue, the Los Angeles Times reports. UC filed the suit the same day the state’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) denied the school’s request to halt the strikes. It was the second time the state agency found UC had not met the legal grounds necessary for an injunction.

“By direction of the board, the request for injunctive relief in the above-entitled matter is denied without prejudice, sufficient grounds therefore not having been demonstrated,” J. Felix De La Torre, general counsel for the employment board, wrote in its decision Monday.

In its lawsuit, UC said the strikers “have refused to teach classes, lead discussion sections, conduct research, or otherwise refuse to perform their job duties.” The suit also complained that picketers have blocked campus roadways and “stormed and barricaded themselves into buildings” at UCLA.

“At just UC Santa Cruz, UCLA, and UC Davis, over 9,000 UAW members teach over 5,130 undergraduate classes, seminars, discussion sections, and laboratory sections.,” UC said in a filing requesting an injunction. “These classes have literally hundreds of thousands of students enrolled in them — students who have paid tuition for a full quarter’s worth of instruction, and in many cases whose grades and academic futures rely on the completing [of] their courses.”

UC also claimed PERB denied its requests not because the university was wrong but because the agency had no power to decide if the union had breached its contract, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“We are disappointed that the state agency dedicated to the oversight of public employment could not take decisive and immediate action to end this unlawful strike — a decision that harms UC’s students who are nearing the end of their academic year,” said Melissa Matella, UC’s associate vice president for systemwide labor relations. “Now that UC has exhausted the PERB process for injunctive relief, UC will move to state court and is hopeful for quick and decisive action so that our students can end their quarter with their focus on academics.”

Union President Rafael Jaime said in a statement that the state labor board has “once again upheld the law. It’s time for UC to face reality.” He also said by going to state court, UC has “decided to ignore the authority” of the labor board and is “continuing to insist that the rules do not apply to it.”

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