University of California student workers authorize strikes over Gaza protest response


May 16 (UPI) -- Thousands of UAW student workers at the University of California voted to authorize a strike that could start Friday.

Local 4811, which represents 19,780 teaching assistants, researchers, tutors, readers, program coordinators and other student workers said on X the strike authorization was "in response to UC's unprecedented acts of intimidation and retaliation directed at our rights as academic employees to free speech, protest, and collective action."

"At the heart of this is our right to free speech and peaceful protest." Local 4811 President Rafael Jaime, a PhD student in the UCLA English Department, said in a statement.

The union said 79% of participating members voted yes to authorize a strike "if circumstances justify."

The union said the students will evaluate and announce on Fridauy whether to call the first campus or campuses to Stand Up.

Stand Up refers to tactics employed by the UAW in its strike against the Detroit three automakers, where union leaders decide when and where strike action will occur rather than all union members going out on strike at once.

UC said in a statement that it "believes that a strike sets a dangerous precedent that would introduce non-labor issues into labor agreements."

"While we acknowledge the profoundly troubling issues about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and understand their impact on our students and employees, the University maintains that these issues fall outside the scope of negotiation for employment and the implementation of existing labor contracts," it said.

The Union announced the strike authorization process after UCLA declared the encampment unlawful, threatening sanctions including suspension or dismissal against students who chose to remain.

Police in riot gear moved in and forcibly tore down the encampment two days later after clashes erupted between protesters and counter-protesters the day prior.

On Wednesday law enforcement cleared a pro-Palestinian protest camp at UC Irvine after protesters barricaded themselves inside the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall.

UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gilman said in a statement he was "heartbroken" that protesters chose to escalate from a peaceful protest encampment to seizing a building.

In a statement, UAW Local 4811 said the unprecedented crackdown on free speech at UC is unacceptable.

The union said UC San Diego sent police in riot gear to the UCSD Gaza Solidarity Encampment and arrested over 50 people including UAW Local 4811 members.

"Our members have been beaten, concussed, pepper sprayed, both by counter-protestors and by police forces. As a union, it is our responsibility to stand beside them and demand that UC stop committing these gross Unfair Labor Practices," the UAW said.

UAW Local 4811 is demanding that UC grant amnesty to academic employees, students, faculty and staff in disciplinary actions related to protests.

Other demands include respecting the right to free speech on campus and divestment from "UC's known investments in weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and companies profiting from Israel's war on Gaza."

The student workers also want disclosure of all UC funding sources and investments and to empower researchers to opt out of funding sources "tied to the military or oppression of Palestinians."