Why University of California graduates are on strike

On a normal weekday, Stephanie Redmond was working in a neuroscience lab at the University of California, San Francisco, trying to figure out what certain brain cells do – but ‘that’s one of the open questions right now’ , she said.

Redmond is one of 48,000 academics in the University of California system who went on strike this week. Teaching assistants, tutors and researchers failed to show up for work in what organizers are calling the biggest strike in the nation’s higher education history. The workers say they are not paid enough to live in the expensive places where their schools are. Their demands include higher wages, childcare subsidies and free transit passes.

Redmond notes that the starting salary for postdoctoral fellows like her is around $56,000 at UCSF.

But in San Francisco, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $3,000 a month.

Childcare costs can be just as high. So when Redmond had a baby, her family moved to a town 90 minutes from the school.

“That’s how my family runs it,” she says. “But it shouldn’t be like that.”

Organizers say university workers are an essential part of the UC system.

“We do most of the teaching and research at the University of California. We grade homework, we teach classes, we teach sections, we teach labs,” said Neal Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5810, the union organizing the strike at UC and a neuroscientist. .

The University of California said it was working to minimize the strike’s effect on students and its proposed salaries were near the top of the pay scale compared to other public universities.

But, across the country, these salaries are relatively low.

Dom Bouavichith was a graduate student who worked at the University of Michigan for six years and is now a staff organizer for GEO 3550, a union that represents graduate workers at the school.

“There’s a big misconception that because they’re students they’re not workers,” Bouavichith said. “People really look at graduate students as esoteric people who – the joy of learning is what drives them, not some kind of career path.”

One of the reasons why non-tenured academics are poorly paid is that public colleges receive less public funding than before, says William A. Herbert, who studies collective bargaining among academics. at Hunter College in New York.

“As a result, it caused a push, trying to find ways to basically save money,” he said.

Rutgers economist Paula Voos said many academics have traditionally accepted lower pay in return for a chance to become full professors. But this compromise no longer happens in the same way.

“When it works well, it’s a kind of apprenticeship. Right now it’s not working well in many disciplines,” Voos said.

This is partly because there are far fewer positions to apply for. According to the American Association of University Professors, less than half of all faculty positions in the United States are currently on tenure track.

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