UC Davis workers plan strike after arrests at pro-Palestine encampments on other UC campuses

UC Davis’ academic employees will walk off the job Tuesday to protest the University of California’s handling of pro-Palestine campus protests across California and alleged unfair labor practices, a United Auto Workers spokeswoman said.

Emily Weintraut, a doctoral student in UC Davis’ Department of Food Science and Technology and a unit chair in the UC Davis chapter of UAW, said the UC system has allowed an unsafe work environment to spread across campuses by failing to stop violence upon peaceful protesters at UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Irvine and arresting union members partaking the demonstrations.

She also accused the UC of changing terms and conditions of their employment in response to the protest without a bargaining session. Examples include canceling classes, switching to remote instruction and altering employee discipline codes, according to UAW’s complaint with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board.

No arrests have taken place at a pro-Palestinian encampment at UC Davis, which sprung up May 6, but Weintraut emphasized she sees all the campuses as interconnected; the alleged workplace violations could also happen at other campuses, she said. UC Santa Cruz was the first to begin a work stoppage on Monday, and UCLA plans join the efforts on Tuesday.

“It’s one UC and that’s why are doing this,” Weintraut added. The campus is entering the final weeks of its last academic quarter before summer break, and the strike on Tuesday morning will feature picket lines throughout the campus.

University of California officials earlier this month said the strike was illegal. UAW 4811 represents about 5,700 UC Davis academic workers including post-doctoral students, teaching assistants, academic researchers and academic student employees.

”UAW’s decision to strike over nonlabor issues violates the no-strike clause of their contracts with UC and 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,” said Melissa Matella, the UC’s associate vice president of systemwide labor relations, in a statement May 16.

The statement included elements of the contract between UC and UAW, including: “The UAW, on behalf of its officers, agents and members, agrees that there shall be no strikes, including sympathy strikes, stoppages or interruptions of work, or other concerted activities which interfere directly or indirectly with University operations during the life of this agreement or any written extension thereof.”

UC officials argued it takes action against protests when they threaten the safety and security of others, and that it took “lawful action to end the impermissible and unlawful behavior.”

On Friday, about 100 union members demonstrated near UC Davis’ pro-Palestinian encampment erected at Memorial Quad to prepare for Tuesday’s labor action. Union leaders gave speeches, provided updates on the war in Gaza and taught a “know your rights” training should protesters run into law enforcement during the strike.

For Joseph Recupero, an academic student employee head steward for the union and second-year anthropology graduate student, the chance to strike involved in part protesting against the university’s alleged repression of free speech. UC Davis features outspoken groups of students expressing different sentiments that could be potentially shut down on campus, he said.

“The union wants to ensure that those rights are protected for student workers,” Recupero said.

The two sides met for mediation on Friday, but PERB declined to disclose what was said during the meeting without the consent of both sides.

UAW filed a complaint with PERB on May 3 over UCLA’s handling of violence against an pro-Palestinian encampment. Hundreds of pro-Israel counterprotesters swarmed the encampment April 30 erected in the heart of campus, lighting fireworks and spraying chemicals.

Police didn’t arrive for hours to break up the fights and then arrested the protesters the following morning at UCLA.

Weintraut said the were the UC’s own making, and that she has friends who were trapped in the violence that was unleashed on peaceful protesters.

“We are not unreasonable,” she said of UAW’s demands.