Graduate Students at U.C. Santa Cruz to Strike on Monday

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Protests over the Israel-Hamas war have rattled college campuses for weeks across California and across the country.

U.S.C. canceled a graduation speech by its valedictorian, a Muslim student, and then called off its main stage commencement altogether. Students at a pro-Palestinian encampment at U.C.L.A. were attacked for hours by counterprotesters without police intervention, prompting criticism of the university and its chancellor. Since April 18, more than 500 protesters have been arrested or detained at California universities from Cal Poly Humboldt to U.C. San Diego.

Now, after the way the university system has handled those protests, graduate students and other academic workers at U.C. Santa Cruz are set to go on strike today. According to their union local, U.A.W. 4811, the work stoppage could be the first of several at U.C. campuses.

Members of the local, which is part of the United Auto Workers, voted last week to authorize a strike over the crackdowns on protests and over what they say were violations of free speech rights. The union represents about 48,000 graduate students and other academic workers at 10 University of California campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Up until now the Santa Cruz campus has been quieter than some others. There have been protests and encampments over the Israel-Hamas war, but no arrests have been made.

The vote enabled what is known as a “stand up” strike, in which workers strike incrementally instead of all at once. Union leaders have asked the 2,000 U.A.W. members who work as teaching assistants, tutors and researchers at U.C. Santa Cruz not to teach or conduct research starting Monday.

“We’re now calling on the first U.C. campus to stand up,” said Rafael Jaime, the president of the local, in a video posted on social media. “For everyone else across the state, stand by and prepare to stand up if your campus is called.”

On Friday, in response to the threat of a strike, the University of California system filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state, saying that the strike is not related directly to labor issues. The university said in a statement that it had asked the state to order union members to “cease and desist strike activity.”

“This strike is illegal,” Melissa Matella, associate vice president for systemwide labor relations at the University of California, said in a statement. “U.A.W.’s decision to strike over nonlabor issues violates the no-strike clause of their contracts with U.C. and sets a dangerous and far-reaching precedent that social, political and cultural issues — no matter how valid — that are not labor-related can support a labor strike.”

Jaime said that the walkout would not last beyond June 30. But it could still complicate matters for the 20,000 students enrolled at U.C. Santa Cruz who are trying to wrap up coursework for the spring quarter, which ends on June 13.


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