The union representing 48,000 academic workers across the University of California said Friday that its members at UC Santa Cruz will go on strike Monday over alleged worker rights and free speech violations, potentially dealing a blow to campus operations at a critical time during the final weeks of the spring quarter.

The decision to target UC Santa Cruz came after 79% of voting members across the state this week authorized the union leadership to call for "rolling" strikes — not over wages and benefits, but for alleged unfair labor practices against union members who supported pro-Palestinian student protests demanding that universities divest from Israel and weapons companies.

The union represents graduate student teaching assistants, researchers and other academic workers at the University of California's 10 campuses.

The Santa Cruz strike would be the first of potentially several work stoppages that the union intends to launch one by one across campuses based on how receptive administrations are to pro-Palestinian activists' demands.

No length of time was given for the strike, which the union announced with a promotional video on the social media site X.

In an earlier interview, Rafael Jaime, United Auto Workers Local 4811 co-president and a doctoral candidate in UCLA's English department, said labor actions could run for any period through the end of June.

"All academic work would cease, including research, teaching and grading," Jaime said.

Student workers will receive $500 weekly in strike pay, or about 33% less than the average teaching assistant makes for a 20-hour work week, he said.

Experts say the union is taking a novel approach in its strike because it is not focused on contract matters but instead on free speech.

UC officials have called the planned strike illegal and cited a no-strike clause in the union's contract, which was ratified after members went on strike in late 2022, winning significant pay increases and benefit improvements. The union argues that the strike is within its legal rights because it's connected to an unfair labor practice charge workers have filed with the state's labor board.

That complaint focuses on the arrests of pro-Palestinian graduate student protesters at UCLA and suspensions and other discipline at UC San Diego and UC Irvine. It accuses the universities of retaliating against student workers and unlawfully changing workplace policies to suppress pro-Palestinian speech.

Internal and external investigations are taking place at UCLA, where faculty senate members voted Thursday on whether to censure and express "no confidence" in Chancellor Gene Block. Results are expected within days.

"Our members have been beaten, concussed, pepper sprayed, both by counterprotesters and by police forces. As a union, it is our responsibility to stand beside them," the union said in a statement prior to Friday's announcement. "In order to de-escalate the situation, UC must substantively engage with the concerns raised by the protesters — which focus on UC's investments in companies and industries profiting off of the suffering in Gaza."

In a letter sent to graduate student workers on Wednesday, UC officials warned students against striking.

"The university's position is that the union's strike is unlawful. ... Participating in the strike does not change, excuse, or modify, an employee's normal work duties or expectations. And, unlike a protected strike, you could be subject to corrective action for failing to perform your duties," the unsigned letter from the UC office of the president said.

The letter also defended universities using riot police to break up protests.

"We have a duty to ensure that all speech can be heard, that our entire community is safe, and that our property and common areas are accessible for all. These duties require the UC to take action when protests endanger the community and violate our shared norms regarding safe behavior and the use of public spaces. Importantly, UC's actions have not been tied to negotiations with UAW or any employment issues whatsoever," it said.

The strike vote comes as campuses throughout the UC system have been roiled by tension and protests over the Israel-Hamas war, including a violent mob attack on a pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA and the arrest of 47 protesters at UC Irvine on Wednesday.

UC Riverside and UC Berkeley have reached agreements with protesters to end encampments and explore divestment from weapons companies. Leaders at those universities have rejected calls to target Israel specifically or for academic boycotts against exchange programs and partnerships with Israeli universities, as some protesters have demanded.

While some Jewish students have supported pro-Palestinian encampments, national Jewish groups have criticized the divestment movement. They say it is antisemitic because it aims to delegitimize the only predominantly Jewish nation.


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