University of California academic staff strike continues

SAN DIEGO — Hundreds of academic staff chanting “Shut it down” and “We’ve got the power” marched through UC San Diego’s waterfront campus Monday as one of the nation’s largest walkouts in years entered its second week.

The strike, which began Nov. 14, involves bargaining units representing nearly 48,000 teaching assistants, researchers and other employees at the 10 campuses of the University of California who are demanding wage increases and better benefits. No end date has been set for the strike, although officials from the United Automobile Workers, which represents academic workers, and the university say they have come closer to an agreement in recent days.

The industrial action, taking place amid a wave of union activity across the country, could mark a national turning point for graduate student workers that American universities have long relied on for relatively low wages.

In California in particular, the exceptionally high cost of living has exacerbated these widespread problems. As my colleague Shawn Hubler reported, UC campuses are in some of the most expensive housing markets in the country, not just in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, but also in coastal enclaves like Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Irvine.

At UC San Diego, in the upscale neighborhood of La Jolla, strikers swarmed en masse between the campus gum trees on Monday afternoon. A protester carried his toddler on his shoulders. Some of the signs that protesters threw up read: “The rent is too damn high.” “Education begins when exploitation ends.” “You can’t eat prestige.”

Anoop Praturu, a third-year graduate student in biophysics, marched with the crowd, playing his guitar in time with the chants. He told me that when his apartment flooded that spring, he couldn’t just find another because he wasn’t making enough money to qualify for most rental housing near campus.

For two months, Praturu, 25, alternated between crashing on friends’ sofas and sleeping in his car. He eventually found an apartment and is now paying $1,200 a month to rent a bedroom in an apartment 15 miles from campus. After his rent, food, and gas, there’s not much left of his $2,300 monthly paycheck.

“Often I have less than nothing left and go into debt just to be here,” he said, adding, “I can’t in good conscience tell anyone to come here for their PhD. The cost of living is unsustainable.”

UC said in a statement that its primary goal is to recognize “the important and valued contributions of these employees” with fair pay and benefits, and a supportive and respectful work environment. University officials are also calling for private mediation to secure a contract.

The proposals offered by the university “would place our doctoral students and academic staff at the top of the pay scale of major public universities and on a par with the best private universities,” the statement said. “While we have many tentative agreements with the union, we remain separate on key issues related to tying wages and raises to housing costs and tuition waivers for non-resident international students.”

The strike has led to canceled lectures and consultation hours over the past eight days and has slowed down research operations. The fallout has been particularly disturbing as the finale approaches for many.

Olivia Gunther, a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said that in recent days, university officials seemed increasingly willing to “meet us somewhere in the middle,” although there are still some issues to be resolved. Gunther is on her unit’s negotiating committee.

“We don’t know when the strike will end. It’s still open,” she told me Monday night. At least it seemed likely that it will continue on Tuesday.

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Today’s tip comes from Deni Caster, who recommends a historic neighborhood in Fremont in the Bay Area:

“There’s such a sense of community in Fremont’s Niles District. Not only is there a history of railroads – where the Transcontinental ended and met the railroad tracks in the Central Pacific – but many early Westerns were filmed there. Every weekend, the Niles Essanay Film Museum screens silent films with piano accompaniment. The California Nursery Historical Park is there, maintaining active trees and roses. The area is surrounded by water, with a water channel using inflatable dams to channel rainwater into these retention basins. The installation of salmon ladders was completed last year. A beautiful walking town with annual garden walks, a dog convention, a golf tournament, the annual Fremont Christmas parade and an antiques fair that has been going on for more than 50 years.”

Tell us about your favorite places in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.

Have you recently bought or rented a home in California? We want to hear from you.

The New York Times weekly real estate column, The Hunt, features ordinary people who have just moved and want to share their stories. If this is you, contact us at [email protected]

There is a new giraffe at the Safari West Conservation Facility north of Santa Rosa.

Baby Grace measured 5 feet, 9 inches and weighed 127 pounds when she was born last month. According to the game reserve, she has already been running around hunting cranes and guinea fowl.

“We are very pleased with the new addition,” said Safari West founder Peter Lang. “Birth is always a true miracle.”