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Students on Strike: The UC Wage Crisis
Empty classrooms, abandoned research labs, outraged and overworked employees. With over 48,000 of its student workers on strike to protest low wages and improper working conditions, a majority of California’s nine distinguished UC campuses have been brought to a stalemate.
The strike, which began on November 14th of this year, has culminated into the largest strike movement in higher education that the nation has ever seen. These strikes, which include grad students, postdoctoral scholars, and researchers all represented by the United Auto Workers union, have the main purpose of increasing wages and gaining access to benefits including childcare and healthcare for UC student employees. Many of whom are not receiving proper compensation for their work, work which is vital to the upkeep and efficiency of campuses across the state.
The UC student worker program, a mainstay of federal financial aid since the Economic Opportunity act of 1964, has for years served as a mutually beneficial venture for both students and University Employers. However, in the decades following the establishment of this program, economic conditions have changed drastically while the program and its benefits have failed to adapt to these shifts.
With rising prices, inflation, and a housing crisis on the rise, it has become increasingly clear to many employed by the University program that their wages are insufficient to subsist. For instance, the UAW has found that the minimum graduate worker pay is less than 24,000 dollars annually, forcing many to spend more than half of their entire yearly salary on rent alone. A figure which puts 92 percent of all graduate student workers within the Federal Housing and and Urban Development guideline range for extremely rent-burdened individuals. Thus, the strikers have begun demanding a starting wage of no less than $54,000 a year for graduate students, and a $75,000 salary minimum for postdoctoral students and research workers.
Many critics have been quick to question the striker’s demands calling the workers nothing more than glorified assistants. This could not be farther from the truth Stacy Torres, an assistant professor of Sociology at the UC San Francisco school of nursing, “UC’s excellence is derived from the essential labor of these groups”. Torres described the vital role these workers played in helping to jumpstart higher learning institutions in the wake of a pandemic which crippled the ability of professionals like herself in providing sufficient services.
From teaching classes themselves, to spearheading research these students are trailblazers in their own right and deserve to be treated as such. And while things may seem grim for these hardworking professionals, with a promise of wage increases of 29% for postgraduate students, there is surely a light at the end of the tunnel. So, while this is certainly not the end, thanks to small changes like this, student workers statewide will be able to continue their pursuit of academic excellence.
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