University of California Student Researchers Choose UAW
On Aug. 3, Student Researchers at the University of California received exciting news: The state Public Employment Relations Board verified that a majority of the 17,000 SRs who work at UC signed authorization cards and chose Student Researchers United-UAW to be their union.
This news came after a hardfought, year-long campaign. Student Researchers built supermajority support for unionization while all 10 UC campuses were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Organizing during a pandemic was nobody’s first choice, but the issues are so urgent that people came together despite the circumstances” said Hayley Bounds, a neuroscience Ph.D. student and a member of the UC Berkeley organizing committee
Among those issues are protections from harassment and discrimination, more rights for international workers, and action to address the high cost of housing. Student Researchers have dealt with these issues for decades, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the law formally recognized them as employees and granted them collective bargaining rights.
“Academic workers have won major improvements through unionizing, so it was no surprise that Student Researchers chose to improve their working conditions by forming a union as soon as they had the right to do so” said Neal Sweeney, the president of UAW 5810.
Student Researchers reached out to UAW for assistance organizing their union. Because UAW already represents over 30,000 employees at the University of California, and nearly 100,000 higher education workers nationwide, it was an easy choice.
“If you are forming a union for higher education workers, UAW is the way to go,” said Rafael Jaime, the president of UAW 2865. “TAs at UC have already won higher wages and groundbreaking protections from harassment through our union contract. The fact that 17,000 Student Researchers could soon have access to benefits like these makes me so excited.”
Student Researchers achieved their incredible majority during a pandemic through innovative organizing tactics. Many organizing conversations took place on Zoom, and cards were signed in-person using extensive safety protocols. In February, at the urging of UAW, California allowed authorization cards to be signed electronically, and the campaign’s momentum skyrocketed.
“Because we couldn’t visit people in their workplaces, we had to track down everybody via our social networks. This actually led to really strong organizing; leaders understood the importance of working every single social connection they had. It wasn’t easy, but we’re stronger because of it” said Somchate Wasantwisut, a student in the Chemical & Environmental Engineering Department at UC Riverside.
UC has yet to formally respond to Student Researchers United-UAW’s petition for recognition and has requested multiple extensions to their deadlines to do so. That’s disappointing news to Student Researchers who have worked so hard to form their union and are eagerly looking forward to making progress, but organizers are undeterred.
“I’ve spent countless hours over the last year organizing with SRU-UAW and I’m not giving up now.” said James Boocock, an international student in the Department of Human Genetics at UCLA. “I know that UC will eventually have to respect our democratic decision to form a union, and I am looking forward to bargaining with them as soon as they come around.”
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