December 7, 2021
Workers at California’s universities are frustrated. Days after the University of California reached a contract with its lecturers in mid-November, two more of its unions authorized a strike. California State University faculty is at an “impasse” in its negotiation with the system for a new contract. Resident assistants at the University of Southern California and Stanford, two of California’s top private colleges, have gone on strike or plan to do so. Altogether, those groups make up some 50,000 California’s higher education workers.
Labor actions in California’s higher education aren’t unusual. A union representing the UC’s service and patient care employees alone has gone on strikes six times between 2017 and 2019. Unions also call off many strikes at the last minute, just like the case with the UC’s lecturers last month. But collectively the number of higher education workers considering strikes is among the highest California has seen in years. The figure represents workers’ dissatisfaction, but also the growing power of organized labor in higher education, union leaders and experts said.
“At a generational level, you have people coming of age with many having high student debt, taking or seeking degrees in which the scope of available good paying jobs has decreased,” said William A. Herbert, the executive director at the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York. “There’s a certain degree of people wanting to take action to improve their livelihood.”