PERB Rules that a Majority of UC’s 17,000 Student Researchers Have Democratically Decided to Form a Union

The largest unionization of Academic Student Employees in U.S. history takes the higher ed labor movement to new heights

California’s Public Employment Relations Board has verified that a majority of the 17,000 Graduate Student Researchers, Trainees, and Fellows at the ten University of California campuses and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have chosen to unionize through Student Researchers United/UAW (SRU-UAW). SRU-UAW makes history as the largest union formed in 2021, and the largest-ever unionization drive of academic student employees. SRU-UAW leaders immediately requested that UC administrators respect their democratic decision, recognize their union, and begin negotiations for a contract.

“We’re thrilled that PERB has verified our majority,” said Maya Holay, a Student Researcher in the Department of Nanoengineering at UC San Diego. “And we are also proud that a supermajority of Student Researchers have signed cards supporting the union. The fact that this happened during COVID underlines how strongly we believe in using our collective voice to improve our working conditions and, in turn, the quality of research at UC. We are calling on administrators to respect our democratic decision by quickly recognizing our union, and to begin bargaining a fair contract right away.”

We welcome these 17,000 workers and we believe they represent the beginning of a large growth period for organized labor not just at the UAW but throughout the U.S.,” said Ray Curry, President of the UAW. “The recent pandemic reminded all of us of the importance of having a voice at the table with employers. Graduate Student Researchers deliver key value to their employers through grants and what they produce. Yet they struggle both in paying for housing, for expenses and in the uncertainty of their long-term future.”

Graduate Student Researchers are a diverse group of academics who power UC’s research mission. From those who have just recently completed their undergraduate work to prestigious fellows and trainees who perform groundbreaking research in their fields, GSRs and other Student Researchers help UC consistently secure more patents than any other university in the world, and bring in the billions in grant revenue it takes to do so.

 “As student researchers in the Nanoengineering department, my colleagues and I perform cutting-edge research that brings in millions of dollars of revenue to UC every year. We love our jobs, but we need a contract that addresses the issues we face,” Holay said. We look forward to bargaining a first contract that addresses inequity in academia, secures important protections for international workers, and compensates us fairly. We hope that the university will respect our democratic choice and start negotiating with us without delay.”

Today’s victory is a huge boost for the growing academic worker movement, which has gained steam in recent years. UAW alone now represents more than 100,000 academic workers at universities across the country, and has recently won unions at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Washington. Together, unionized academic workers have fought racist and xenophobic Trump-era travel bans, turned back the Republican Grad Tax, lobbied for more funding for scientific research (including COVID research) and more. UAW now represents more than 50,000 employees at UC, which is the state of California’s largest employer.

“We are proud to welcome the University of California’s hard working Graduate Student Researchers to the UAW and congratulate them on the historic nature of their union,” said Mitchell Smith, Director of UAW Region 8. “We look forward to partnering with the University of California to bargain a contract that adequately reflects the contributions they make.”

“Workers in higher education are organizing because standing together is the best way to address workplace challenges like low wages, unstable benefits and persistent harassment and discrimination,” said Cindy Estrada, UAW Vice President and head of the UAW Stellantis, Higher Education, Organizing, and Women’s Departments. “These workers are choosing UAW because we have a strong record helping secure contractual protections against sexual harassment and discrimination and making our workplaces more equitable. We are thrilled to welcome the UC Student Researchers into the UAW.”