University of California graduate student workers have launched the largest academic strike in U.S. history. Most workers struggle to afford to eat, pay rent, or have kids. Meanwhile the university has an endowment worth nearly $30 billion. More Perfect Union spoke to workers about why they are on strike. A full transcription of the video is below.
[Workers picketing]: Shut it down! Shut it down!
[Striking worker]: We’re staging the biggest academic workers strike in U.S. history…
[Striking worker]: … because the University of California is paying its student workers poverty wages.
Todd Emmenegger: We make up one-fifth of the workforce and we only take up 1% of the UC budget.
[Striking worker]: We don’t think our university should act like a corporation, and we’re going to put a stop to it through workers power.
Rachel Forgash: We do, I don’t know, somewhere between like 70-90% of the labor at the University of California. There’s just no way that this university will operate, and we will continue to stay out on strike until we win.
48,000 University of California graduate student workers are on strike for better pay and benefits.
It is the largest academic worker strike ever.
[Striking worker]: When the university fucks around, the university finds out.
Ally Cara: This is really unprecedented that four bargaining units have come together to strike at the same time. So we’re not just here at UCLA. We’re all across UC at ten different campuses.
Rachel: We’re 48,000 strong for the first time. And so we have an unprecedented opportunity to fight for really important demands like we normally wouldn’t be able to. And there are so many shared conditions that we have in our work environments.
Ally: We’re fighting for living wages for postdocs, visa fees waived for international postdocs, childcare subsidies for working parents, as well as transit subsidies.
Todd: We’re fighting for capped class sizes because we really care about the students learning conditions.
Rachel: Some of the key things I’m fighting for are ending rent burden and
Todd: As TAs we want to raise the brightest generation of students. And we can’t do that when we are wondering how we are going to make next month’s rent, choosing between feeding ourselves and skipping meals, or some students even live in their car some years.
The average UC worker makes $23 thousand on average. If you live on campus near UCLA, like the graduate student housing, it’s like $1,400 to $1,700 dollars a month for rent. So you’re making about $1,800 a month and then you’re just paying that back to the university as your landlord. Increasing our wages would transform the university into what it envisions itself to be. You think the University of California is a progressive system, but it’s not.
Rachel: How do I get by? Well, I don’t have much of a social life, which is extremely infantilizing as a 34 year old woman. Quite frankly, it’s really hard to be able to have friends my own age when I don’t make enough to go out with people.
I am a very proud cat mom, but unfortunately not a mother. That’s something I would like to be able to say at this age, but I’ve had to make the decision between continuing to work at the UC and having a family.
Sarah Gooding: The monthly costs of infant child care in Davis is roughly 70% of my entire pre-tax salary. For graduate students at UC Davis, there is a childcare grant available. It works out to roughly $300 a month, whereas the cost of our daycare is going to be $2,070 a month.
So even with both of us being eligible for that grant, because we’re both grad students, it’s a little over a quarter of the cost of childcare.
Jade Moore: As of now UC offers no subsidies for childcare. What they’ve brought to the table and proposals for postdocs includes giving a whopping $2,500 a year, which is equivalent to about $200 a month for childcare subsidies, which would essentially not cover or even put a dent in the types of childcare that’s available for postdocs at the moment.
UC Postdoc workers are demanding up to $2,000 a month for childcare.
Sarah: What this $2,000 a month of childcare support would actually do is really help to equalize the ability of students from different programs to have children.
Jade: Because of the costs of childcare, a lot of women ultimately make the decision to leave science because their salary essentially covers just childcare. And so you do the tradeoffs: I could be at home with my kids taking care of them versus working just to try to barely cover their childcare.
Sarah: It feels very urgent to be on strike right now. I have a very salient clock ticking
Jade: I think if I could send one clear message to university, it’s really that we are human beings first that are providing a really powerful tool for the rest of our community in order for us to fight diseases, in order for us to learn new things about how the world works, in order for individuals to just live better lives in general.
And I think that we should be compensated fairly for that. We should be treated equitably. We should not have to work in hostile working environments.
Todd: We have a real chance to transform the university system of California into a public university once again.
[Striking worker]: And beyond the University of California, we are on the front lines of a transformation within academia across the country. Beyond academia, we are among countless workers fighting for dignity from corporate exploitation.
Videography by Katherine Otoole and Scotty Wagner