Members of United Auto Workers Locals 5810 and 2865 — which represents postdoctoral and student workers, respectively – as well as members of the newly formed Student Researchers United rallied statewide on April 26 to gather support for their respective contract campaigns.

The three unions representing various University of California employees are in the process of renegotiating their contracts and working to leverage their combined over 48,000 members to garner concessions from the university on issues including affordable housing, salary and child care.

Members of all three unions gathered at campuses across the UC for coordinated marches, advocating for fair wages and workplace policies. The largest protests took place at UC San Diego, UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles where supporters blocked off roads in their march and were met by police in SWAT gear. 

At UC Santa Barbara, union members and supporters met outside Cheadle Hall, where individuals delivered speeches before the group marched to Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s office on the fifth floor.

Doctoral student researcher in biomolecular science and engineering Payton DeMarzo said that her focus was on discrimination protections.

“We shouldn’t have to deal with toxicity because we’re afraid of being switched out of a lab and having to start our thesis all over,” she said. “We shouldn’t be penalized for the perpetrator’s actions, and that’s something I care a lot about.” 

“We are making them listen by coming out and showing them that this is something we’re not going to budge on. Human rights is not a bargain,” DeMarzo continued.

Molecular biology doctoral candidate and Student Researchers United (SRU) member Katharine Dickson led the group in a series of chants, reciting, “48,000 ready to fight, postdocs, ARs, grads, unite.”

Evan Plunkett, a postdoctoral researcher with the UCSB Chabinyc Research Group, shared his experiences attending a prior bargaining session with the university held for United Auto Workers Local 5810’s contract renegotiations.

Plunkett recounted how the union waited over half an hour for university representatives to arrive, only to present a compensation package identical to one proposed six months ago. 

“The university presents their compensation package from six months ago, unchanged, instead of talking about how they’re going to pay us enough to live and work in this community,” he said. “They wax about how an altered pay schedule will somehow magically address the problem of the millions of dollars they have stolen out of the pockets of postdocs through late and delayed wages.”

As negotiations begin with SRU, the university has stated that they “are committed to ensuring that [union members] are compensated fairly for [their] work,” as well as “Ensuring a safe, respectful, and supportive workplace environment for all employees.”

Robert McLaughlin, a doctoral student researcher in computer science, said that, while many UC employees are members of different unions, they share similar struggles, including high rent burden and a need for child care.

“So, we’re specifically asking for a joint bargaining table for those topics … But UC actually has already rejected that,” he said.

After speeches, members of all three unions wrote personal, unsigned messages advocating for the unions’ goals on a poster addressed to Yang that read, “Can You Tell Who is Who?”

The group eventually made their way to the fifth floor of Cheadle Hall, taping the poster over the door of the Office of the Chancellor and posing for photos.

A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the April 28, 2022, print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Mark Alfred
Mark Alfred (he/him) was the University News Editor for the 2022-23 school year.