The United Auto Workers 4811 UC Santa Barbara chapter held a walkout at the Chemistry Lawn on May 20 in solidarity with striking academic workers at UC Santa Cruz. The walkout began at 11:30 a.m. with roughly 100 attendees. 

The UAW held a walkout on May 20 in solidarity with striking workers at UCSC. Michelle Cisneros / Daily Nexus

UAW 4811 is the UC academic workers’ student labor union. The walkout followed the UAW 4811 strike authorization vote from May 13-15, after the union filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against UCLA on May 3. The charges filed against the UC and subsequent strike authorization vote were made in response to the “administration’s conduct and actions” relating to police arresting protestors — including student workers — at the UCLA pro-Palestine encampments. 

According to a statement from UAW 4811, the UC violated the Higher Education Employee-Employer Relations Act by “constitut[ing] retaliation and discrimination against UAW Local 4811 members for engaging in protected concerted protest activity.” 

The UC issued a statement on May 16 calling the strike “unlawful.”

“The University had no indication that the protests were connected to any labor dispute or the terms of employment for students, some of whom are also UAW members in their capacity as University employees. The list of demands from student protestors, and even from UAW 4811, are political demands that are outside the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.” 

At UCSB, the Liberated Zone encampment located on the lawns between North Hall, or “Malcolm X Hall,” and the UCSB Library, was erected on May 1 and remains nonviolent in its third week. The encampment has released a list of demands, calling for the University to “disclose, divest and demilitarize”. During the walkout, several speakers affirmed the encampments as a valid expression of freedom of speech on campus.

According to a leaflet handed out at the walkout, the union is calling on the UC to negotiate agreements on concerns, including amnesty for all academic employees facing arrest due to protest, right to free speech, divestment from weapons manufacturers and military contractors and companies profiting from “Israel’s war on Gaza.” 

It also called for the University to disclose all funding sources and investments and “empower support for researchers to opt out from funding sources tied to the military or oppression of Palestinians” by providing alternative funding sources. 

UAW member Laura Snell and fellow emcee Emma Hanlon began the walkout’s presentation. 

“We’re gathered here today to rally, to protect our rights for free speech, political freedom and to say free Palestine,” Snell said. 

The next speaker was an international graduate student worker from the Middle East who wished to remain anonymous. 

“As someone born and raised in the Middle East under a totalitarian regime, I am well familiar with police brutality on college campuses, well familiar with the administrator’s despicable tactics of intimidation that more than anything reveals that terrible fear of students and workers’ movements,” they said.  

According to the graduate student, the UCSB Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) sent out an email on May 6, 10 minutes after the union communicated its schedule for the strike authorization vote. OISS allegedly warned international students of immigration status demotions that may happen if non-U.S. citizens are detained by law enforcement or suspended by the University. 

“Threats of Student Conduct proceedings do not revoke a student’s status,” they said.

The graduate student continued by claiming that a similar email was sent at the onset of the UAW graduate student rally in fall 2022 — the largest strike in higher education history. 

“I have never felt worried about being taken into custody because I was always surrounded by my U.S. citizen comrades who were ready to put their bodies on the line instead of me,” they said. “I have a suggestion for OISS: maybe demand your boss [takes] cops off campus.” 

The next speaker was third-year graduate student in the materials department and Academic Student Employees Unit Chair Madeline Vailhe. 

“In order to tell UC that we are not going to allow them to attack our co-workers who are fighting for a free Palestine, it’s going to take all of us working together,” Vailhe said. 

She went on to encourage workers to support the strike and discuss it with their coworkers. 

“We will build power and make the University listen and understand that their actions are unacceptable and that they cannot scare us,” they said. 

Political science department lecturer Chase Hobbs Morgan, a member of Academics for Justice in Palestine and University Council-American Federation of Teachers — the UC union for librarians and lecturers — discussed the political theory behind the current state of free speech on college campuses. 

“In this political scene, the encampment and all of the organizing that has gone on behind it, and in the years and decades preceding it, can be seen as something that protects collective thriving,” he said. 

Hobbs-Morgan said the encampment and strike are tangible ways that free speech is being made available on campuses. 

“We’re defending and bolstering the actually existing experience of freedom, building something new, building something better, something that might come closer to justice,” he said. 

Isaac, a graduate student worker who wished only to be identified by his first name, discussed the historical context of labor actions in solidarity with social justice movements. 

“What the last eight months of the war on Gaza and what the crackdown on students, undergraduates, graduates, professors and community members all around the country has shown is that working conditions here are inextricably tied to Palestinian liberation,” he said. 

The last speaker was fourth-year biology major, De La Guerra Dining Commons employee and Student Assistant Labor United — the union for student workers member Uma Clemenceau. On Feb. 21, 2024, the UC refused to recognize the union despite being recognized by the Public Employment Relations Board. 

“We are not just organizing undergraduate students for better wages and better working conditions. We are organizing a union because we are questioning the very idea that education should be commodified and privatized,” Clemenceau said. 

Vailhe spoke with the Nexus on how the strike relates to undergraduates. 

“Undergraduate students can also be part of our union as long as you’re working as a learning assistant, tutor or reader,” she said. “I think that it’s a really important teaching, not just from the classroom, but within the community and your coworkers.” 

According to Vailhe, union members are “currently ready to strike whenever the university board calls upon [them].” They emphasized that the university could remedy the strike by negotiating labor practices. 

The walkout concluded at around 12:30 p.m. with chants from Snell and Hanlon. 

“UC, UC, you can’t hide. Our strike’s going UC-wide.” 

A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the May 23, 2024 print edition of the Daily Nexus.

CORRECTION [5/24/2024, 2:36 p.m.]: A previous version of this article listed Laura Snell as Recording Secretary of the Academic Service Employee Section for UAW. The article has been corrected to list Snell as a UAW member.