The University of California is attempting to dock the future wages of workers who withheld labor during the largest-ever strike by higher education workers that ended in December 2022.
In response, the three United Auto Workers unions representing the 48,000 workers who went on strike took issue with the UC’s intention to deduct wages from future paychecks to compensate for time not worked by striking members, instead of deducting wages from the paychecks workers received while on strike.
Members of the three unions — Student Researchers United (SRU), United Auto Workers (UAW) 5810 and UAW 2865 — withheld weeks of their labor in support of union efforts to fairly bargain for a better contract with the UC. The strike ended with all unions winning raises and other benefits as part of their new contracts.
The UC Office of the President (UCOP) sent attestation forms — self-report documents that help the UC determine whether or not an employee withheld labor and if any wages should be deducted from their pay for the time not worked — along with related guidance to campus’ executive vice chancellors and vice presidents on Jan. 13, according to UCOP Associate Director of Media Relations Ryan King.
The unions did not dispute the university’s right to not pay workers for the labor they withheld, but accused the UC of violating California law and filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge on Jan. 26 by attempting to deduct wages after the strike’s conclusion instead of doing so during the strike. The concerns were sent in a cease and desist letter to the UC on Jan. 18, five days after the attestation forms were sent out.
“The University’s decision to knowingly overpay workers when they were exercising their right to withhold their labor, with the intent to later tell employees that their paychecks are now being reduced even though they are back to work because of their prior strike activity, evidences the University’s attempt to chill and discourage workers from exercising their right to strike in the future,” the cease-and-desist letter stated.
In the ULP charge, the UAW unions alleged that the university’s conduct violates both the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act and regulations prohibiting public employers from deterring or discouraging union membership.
“Veering from regular payroll procedures and practices, the University asserted that it would make these deductions over the course of three months, without getting employee consent or first notifying employees of the actual deduction amounts before money was withheld from their paychecks,” the ULP filing read.
The attestation forms reflect the UC’s efforts to comply with obligations that stem from its use of state funds and external federal grants, according to King, who did not directly address the ULP charge in his statement to the Nexus.
“The University may not legally pay our employees or gift them funds if they did not provide a service to the institution,” King said in the statement. “As we move from gathering information through the attestation process to applying that information to our payroll, we will continue to work with our campuses, employees, and the union on the best way to fairly record that time, provide information to our employees, and align pay to the work performed.”
UAW union leadership also took issue with the possibility of graduate student enrollment reductions becoming a way to cover the cost of the future wage increases that the unions won while striking. In a letter to UC President Michael V. Drake, the presidents of UAW 2865 and UAW 5810 — Rafael Jaime and Neal Sweeney, respectively— urged the UC to avoid cuts to graduate student enrollment for the good of the university.
“We firmly believe that educating the next generation of Californians is a project worthy of investment,” the letter stated. “Reduced enrollment of graduate students is not only detrimental to undergraduate education, but it means fewer opportunities for graduate education, which is a pathway to high-income jobs for working class Californians.”
King told the Nexus that UCOP has not instructed any campuses to reduce student enrollment for the upcoming year and that any speculation on enrollment impacts from the contracts would be premature.
“There is an expected period of implementation where issues are brought to our attention and appropriate processes and procedures are put in place,” King said in a statement to the Nexus. “We will continue our conversations with each location to understand where there are needs and how best UCOP can support the implementation of this vital contract.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Feb. 2, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.