Get an A, Go to the Picket Line

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Photo by Vicente Villasenor

Mariela Vasquez

Staff Writer

On Nov. 14, unions representing about 48,000 academic workers initiated a strike all across UC campuses. It has been said to be the biggest academic strike in history, hoping to ensure that the demands of academic workers are heard.

The graduate workers have been negotiating a contract with demands including, according to The Guardian, “increased compensation, childcare reimbursements, job security protections, sustainable transit incentives, and eliminating fees for international scholars and stronger disability accommodations.” As a new contract went into negotiation, the three academic labor unions —Union of Postdocs and Academic Researchers UAW Local 5810, UAW Local 2865, and Student Researchers United UAW — voted to authorize a strike. 

As this strike begins and continues until an agreement is met, academic employees will withhold all of their labor. As a result, multiple classes instructed by teaching assistants (TAs) were canceled and, throughout the strike, no TA-graded assignments, exams, or papers will be uploaded online until an agreement is reached. 

The usage of grades as bait for this strike may, at first glance, seem unfair. After all, university students pay tuition with the expectation that they will receive credited education.

However, it is unsettling to know that in order for work to be graded, academic employees, specifically TAs, have to undertake grueling working conditions with unlivable pay, on top of having to pay their own tuition to the school. 

How can our TAs produce their best work, as well as keep up with planning and grading, if they have to constantly worry about making ends meet? It’s a cruel expectation.

The lack of grades for the unforeseeable future seems trivial compared to the unjust contract of graduate workers. Graduate students aren’t machines and shouldn’t be expected to operate as such, no matter what job. 

Using grades as leverage, the vital item necessary for any academic institution to function, sends a powerful message. All parties involved will be affected. For undergraduates, it can be an inconvenience as we near the end of the fall quarter and approach the final season. For graduate students, it will be time and energy spent on organizing and deviating from the usual routines.

But, more than an inconvenience, it will disrupt daily routines. The lack of grades will force these systems to come to a halt in order to emphasize how crucial our academic workers are. These grades would not be possible were it not for the efforts of our academic employees and we should be supporting them.

Photo by Hally Zhou

For many undergraduates who are witnessing the scale of such a strike for the first time, it can be an intimidating affair. Luckily, TAs and other graduate students have taken steps to best ensure transparency, bringing a level of reassurance. For instance, many TAs utilized class time to elaborate on the strike, give informational presentations, and have offered to answer any questions students may have. 

The recent email UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) sent, “Guidance for undergraduate students impacted by strike activities,” was quite infuriating to read. Abstaining from mentioning the origins of the strike is a blatant invalidation of the experiences of academic workers. This email did not clarify or address why this strike was occurring, which I felt would’ve been more important. As these negotiations are taking place between the UC system and the UAW, UCSB could have put out a statement of support on behalf of their graduate workers. If that wasn’t possible, they could have at least refrained from sending this type of email.

The purpose of a strike is to cause disruption. The university community may be impacted by the strike and if it is, that’s great. This means that the strike is operating as it should. Academic workers are the backbone of the UC system — they teach our sections, conduct research, and help run our UCs. 

As an undergraduate, I wholeheartedly support the unions fighting for a fairer contract. The slight nerves from the unpredictability of grades and the upcoming academic week were automatically diminished at the immensity of the strike. The collective organizing that is going to occur statewide is inspiring and empowering for any past, current, and future students. If the UCs establish an acceptable contract, it could set a precedent for undergraduate students that choose to seek a path in graduate school. This could change the course of academic careers, for the better. 

Personally, I applaud the academic workers in this battle. They have my support and I hope the contract demands can be met soon. Furthermore, there is also power in numbers. I encourage undergraduates who want to support this path paved by current academic workers for their future to join the picket line. 

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