Strength in numbers: United Automobile Workers and UCSF
January 23, 2023
Despite what the name suggests, the UAW protest consists of graduate students, academic researchers, teacher’s assistants, and postdoctoral scholars on strike because of the low pay they receive from UC institutions. UAW is representing them in their battle against the UC system for higher wages.
Strikes like these have become increasingly frequent in most industries as workers rise up to demand better wages and working conditions in a growing nationwide movement of workers learning to value their labor. One way workers can boost their working conditions is by organizing into a labor union.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a labor or trade union is a group of employees within a certain industry or company that come together to work towards better treatment of its workers. Unions often ask members to pay dues to fund their operations. They work to negotiate with employers for higher pay, better working conditions, and benefits such as healthcare and paid vacation for their members.
Rhea Misra is a graduate student and student researcher at UCSF who participated in the UAW protest on the sidewalks in front of her campus.
Like the many other protests across California, the UAW protest Misra took part in demanded higher salaries in response to the high living and housing costs of California. Many claimed they were being paid below a living wage—a term used to describe the theoretical minimum income level needed for a worker to afford their basic needs including food, housing, and other necessities, according to Investopedia.
“The UC works because we work. They wouldn’t be able to generate billions of dollars in profits without us. We’re here to not only change the way academia works but to revolutionize the way work is done and show that power is in the people that make the system run,” Misra said.
In addition to demonstrating the power of workers, Misra said the workers were on strike to make themselves heard by the UC, which has not been respecting their demands until now.
“Our union called the strike because the UC hasn’t been negotiating with us in good faith. A lot of us have been bargaining with the UC for over a year, but they’ve been canceling meetings last minute and not even showing up, so we want the UC to know that we are serious about our demands. That’s why we’re out here,” Misra said.
For the UCSF students, the bargaining process is crucial for guaranteeing them benefits.
“We came up with proposals to negotiate with the UC for wages, child care, transit, and accessibility. We’re also negotiating the rules of the contract for workers, so if the contract gets broken, we have a way to enforce it and hold the UC accountable,” Misra said.
Even if the shouts of the UAW protesters are all that people can hear along the blocks in front of UCSF, efforts for a similar cause are heard further into the city.