Strike signs at UC Santa Cruz
A UAW Local 4811 member organizes strike signs at UC Santa Cruz the morning of May 20. (Photo/Courtesy UAW 4811)

UC Santa Cruz employees strike over treatment of pro-Palestinian protesters

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Graduate-student employees at UC Santa Cruz went on strike Monday, upending the functioning of the picturesque campus in protest of the university system’s handling of pro-Palestinian protests.

The strike, which was authorized last week for union workers across the entire University of California system, is limited to UC Santa Cruz for now but has the potential to spread to the nine other campuses. The union said the strike is tied to “unfair labor practices” and risks to the health and safety of union members, but UC’s leadership has accused the union of approving an illegal strike based on political motivations.

Union leaders explained the reasons behind the strike in a video posted on social media.

“For many months, workers across California have protested the death, destruction, and human suffering in Gaza,” said Rafael Jaime, president of United Auto Workers Local 4811, which represents about 48,000 graduate-level employees across the UC system.

“Over the last two weeks, UC has allowed appalling violence and intimidation against members of our academic community who exercised their right to protest,” said Douglas Grion Filho, a union member who supports the strike.

Early Monday morning, protesters at UC Santa Cruz blocked the two primary entrances to the 2,000-acre, redwood-lined campus near the California coast, leading to the cancellation of some classes and pushing others online. UC Santa Cruz’s spring quarter continues through June 13.

The strike represented another frustration for a number of Jewish students who have dealt with a steady stream of pro-Palestinian protests since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre in Israel and the ongoing war, including an encampment on the campus lawn that was still in place as of Monday and that administrators have said violates campus conduct rules.

One of the demands of campus protesters was a complete academic boycott of “Zionist institutions,” including the campus Hillel, a demand that drew accusations of antisemitism due to the centrality of Hillel to Jewish campus life. The university responded on May 5, stating that it will continue its relationship with Hillel.

Michaela Geller-Montague, a Jewish student from Berkeley majoring in neuroscience, was home Monday after her lab class was canceled.

“It’s been tough to be on campus,” said Geller-Montague, a senior. “Since the encampment has started, we are kind of on high alert all the time.”

She said there is “graffiti everywhere” on campus. “It kind of feels like there is no escape from the hatred.”

Ella Haggin, a Jewish student from Los Angeles majoring in economics, said her two Hebrew classes scheduled for Monday were moved online.

“These are classes I enjoy having in person,” she said, calling it “upsetting” as a graduating senior that her classes had gone remote. “I’m not sure how long this is going to go on.”

Haggin said she is part of a WhatsApp group of about 60 Jewish students that was active on Monday.

“People are distraught. They’re like, What’s going on? Why are they doing this?” she said.

The strike at UC Santa Cruz followed an authorization vote from the full union on May 15. According to the union, the strike vote passed with 79 percent of the 19,780 votes cast.

The vote came after a violent incident that captured national headlines at UCLA. On April 30 a mob of counterdemonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, injuring protesters. Earlier, videos had circulated online appearing to show pro-Palestinian protesters blocking pro-Israel Jewish students from accessing certain parts of campus.

The union filed an “unfair practice charge” earlier this month with California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), naming mass arrests of protesters at UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Irvine and the violence at UCLA.

UCLA “failed to respond to this violent conduct and protect their employees engaged in peaceful political protest,” states the filing.

The filing with PERB also excoriated the university’s leadership for arresting people whom the union considered to be lawful protesters. “University employees represented by UAW Local 4811 should not be forcibly arrested and deprived of their very liberty for participating in a non-violent political protest on campus,” according to the document.

University of California leadership sharply criticized the strike, saying it represented an illegal violation of the collective bargaining agreement and asking the state to order the union to “cease and desist strike activity.”

“UAW’s decision to strike over nonlabor issues violates the no-strike clause of their contracts with UC,” according to a May 16 statement from Melissa Matella, associate vice president of systemwide labor relations. It “sets a dangerous and far-reaching precedent that social, political and cultural issues — no matter how valid — that are not labor-related can support a labor strike.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.