Indian American Assemblymember in California Ash Kalra supports UC academic workers’ strike

Ritu Jha-

Indian American Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a Democrat who is also the chairperson of the State Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee told indica that he will support University of California (UC) Academic Workers. The University of California university workers are on strike from November 14, impacting over 48,000 academic workers.

In an email response, the university told indica that its officials have conducted “over 50 bargaining sessions,” including over this past holiday weekend, and “worked in good faith to offer a fair, multiyear agreement.”

They are currently in contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers (UAW) regarding four separate academic employee groups: Postdoctoral Scholars, Academic Researchers, Academic Student Employees (teaching assistants/readers/tutors), and Graduate Student Researchers in 10 UC campus.

Talking about the ongoing, strike at the UC campus, Kalra said they want protection and called the administration to bargain in good faith and come to an agreement.

“Workers never want to go on strike, that is the last resort,” Assemblymember Kalra said. “It’s the last resort when the management doesn’t take the needs seriously.”

“In this case, we need UC administration to take the workers’ demands more seriously,” he said. He co-authored a letter signed by 32 colleagues urging Michael Drake, president, University of California that reads: “As members of California’s legislature, we urge you to avert strikes by ceasing to commit unfair labor practices and begin bargaining in good faith with the 48,000 UAW-represented University of California (UC) Academic Workers.”

Kalra told indica, “My update is that the UC administration did not listen to us and I asked before the strike began and the strike is underway, unfortunately.”

Kalra said that many events have been cancelled at the university. “The demand is about the tuition stability plan. They are asking for more.”

“Money is the key issue, but it is also about healthcare and self-determination. More and more work is piled onto the workers. This work should be recognized as well as the condition of the workers,” Assemblyman Kalra said. “President Drake, unfortunately, did not respond.

He believes there is an opportunity to resolve the matter. “Workers never want to go on strike if their concerns are met.”

The letter states: “Since UAW began negotiating with the UC last year, the union has filed over 20 Unfair Labor Practices against the University, with many of these resulting in Complaints issued by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). It is our understanding that the UC’s unlawful tactics are preventing the UAW from reaching agreements on core issues that address improving gender and other types of equity in academia, including compensation that reflects the value of workers’ contributions, transit benefits that help fight climate change, paid family leave, and job security. These priorities will help the UC recruit and retain a diverse workforce that reflects the population of California and includes first-generation academics, immigrants, and other historically-excluded groups, in line with our goals as elected officials in California.”

Ryan King, associate director of media relations, University of California Office of the President told indica, “The University of California continues to negotiate in good faith as we do everything possible to mitigate the impacts of any strike on student learning and our research enterprise.”

He added, “Negotiations continued throughout the weekend, and the current University proposal would set the standard for graduate academic employee support among public research universities. It is important to note that our graduate student employees work strictly on a part-time basis while earning their graduate or doctoral degree, and that compensation is just one of the many ways in which they are supported as students during their time with the University.”

“At this time, we believe that the best path to an agreement is with the aid of a third-party mediator, and have proposed to the United Auto Workers enlisting the assistance of a neutral private mediator so that we can achieve a compromise. We continue to encourage the union’s partnership in pursuing mediation.”

“Our campuses are working to mitigate the impact of any strike activity on our students by ensuring, to the extent possible, continuity of instruction and research. This includes encouraging departmental and academic units to provide additional support and resources to students for learning. Additionally, campuses will be prepared for contingencies should a strike interfere with the conclusion of the academic term.”

“Under our proposals, wages for UC academic employees would be among the top of the pay scale among the top public research universities, and more comparable to private universities such as Harvard, MIT, and USC. The University recognizes the valuable contributions of our Postdoctoral Scholars, Academic Researchers, part-time Academic Student Employees (teaching assistants/readers/tutors), and part-time Graduate Student Researchers. These employees make meaningful contributions to the University’s teaching and research mission in both part-time and full-time roles, and we believe our offers of fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, among other proposals, are fair, reasonable, and responsive to the union’s

According to the university, “Prior to the strike vote, the University and UAW achieved many tentative agreements on key issues such as a respectful work environment and health and safety matters. In the last year, the University of California has settled contracts with a number of unions representing thousands of University staff, including lecturers, nurses, police, and administrative bargaining units. These agreements are illustrative of the University’s good faith and commitment to collaborating with its labor partners to reach fair agreements that are in the best interest of the University and its employees. We remain hopeful that with mediation and by maintaining a spirit of flexibility and compromise we can achieve a fair agreement with the

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