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UC Academics Picket Campuses in Largest Strike of the Year

The post-doctoral scholars, teaching assistants and associate instructors, graduate student researchers, and academic researchers are represented by the United Auto Workers union in contract negotiations with the UC system. Bargaining between the disputing parties has been ongoing for months, and while UC officials recently called for a third-party mediator to address remaining issues, they are continuing to negotiate without one.

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Students on the picket line on Nov. 16, 2022. Photo by Maxim Elramsisy, California Black Media
Students on the picket line on Nov. 16, 2022. Photo by Maxim Elramsisy, California Black Media

By Maxim Elramsisy | California Black Media

Around 48,000 academic workers at all 10 University of California (UC) campuses went on strike Nov. 14, shutting down classrooms and research laboratories in the largest employee walkout at any academic institution in history.

The post-doctoral scholars, teaching assistants and associate instructors, graduate student researchers, and academic researchers are represented by the United Auto Workers union in contract negotiations with the UC system.

Bargaining between the disputing parties has been ongoing for months, and while UC officials recently called for a third-party mediator to address remaining issues, they are continuing to negotiate without one.

“When I was working in the lab, I worked 50-60 hours per week, and the salary was so low that every month I really had to think about if I would make it through the month,” said Neil Sweeny, president of UAW 5810, which is representing the striking UC employees. “I have two small children and my partner was a full-time student. We lived in campus family housing, and we went to the campus foodbank every month to make sure that we had food. This was while my research was bringing in millions of dollars in research funding for the University.”

The workers are demanding better pay and benefits, including wage increases tied to housing costs. Housing costs in California are among the highest in the country, especially in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

Aside from UC campuses located in the state’s biggest cities, many of the research university system’s campuses are in parts of the state that have relatively high costs of living, like Berkeley, San Diego and the Westside of Los Angeles.

“UC’s pay falls below all their self-identified peer institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale and even public schools like the University of Michigan where living costs are far less,” the union said in a press release on Nov. 17.

UC maintains that “on average, UC rents systemwide are 20-25% below market rates, with some campuses providing even deeper discounts. UC has offered wage increases for all UAW members which would further help them meet their housing needs.”

The aggrieved employees paint a different picture.

“Being a TA pays for tuition but there is no way I can support myself in this city with what they pay,” said Victor E., a PhD. student and teacher’s assistant on strike at UCLA. “With teaching, my own coursework, and my research, there isn’t really any time to pick up another job. This has resulted in me taking out loans just to live and eat here. This shouldn’t be the case. With the amount of work the university gets out of its graduate students, postdocs, and others, a living wage is a small ask…A number one ranked public university should be doing no less and certainly much, much more.”

Another priority for the workers is transportation costs. The cost of gasoline has gone up around the world and according to a statewide survey conducted by The Public Policy Institute of California, an independent and non-partisan research firm, 43% of Californians including half of lower-income residents worry every day about the high cost of gasoline and the increasing unaffordability of various modes of transportation.

The union wants UC to cover regional transit passes, and additional subsidies and incentives for taking public transit or bikes to work.

Recently, UC has offered to pay campus fees to extend “existing student-funded transit discounts,” to UAW members.

Although agreements have yet to be announced, on Nov. 17 the UAW reported that “parties made progress on issues related to Parking and Transit, Appointment Notification, and Paid Time Off.”

There continues to be a large gap between the salary asks and the UC proposals. On Nov. 18, a UAW statement said, “UC made another economic proposal to Academic Researchers containing 4.5% raises that do not match the rate of inflation.”

However, they did report progress in some other areas. “We have reached agreement on a few issues — such as health benefits improvements for Postdocs — which, while important, are not the major ones dividing the parties.”

As final examinations approach for students in the UC system, so does uncertainty. “UAW remains ready to meet for round-the-clock negotiations, but UC has not agreed to schedule sessions for the weekend,” a UAW release said. “Workers will be back on the strike lines Monday morning.”

Students, faculty and elected officials are showing support for the strikers. Some professors are cancelling classes, and some students are electing to walk out. California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon tweeted “Academic workers are essential to the success of all of our @UofCalifornia campuses. The UC must continue to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement with the @UAW.”

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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