UC Graduate Students Prepare to Strike in Solidarity With Service Workers

This week, an important act of labor movement solidarity will be happening across California as graduate student employees in the University of California system walk off the job alongside service workers. While graduate students have their own labor concerns, they’re striking on November 20 in solidarity with their service worker counterparts, with the goal of sending a clear message to administration and members of the public: members of the labor movement stick together, and won’t stand for abuse.

The University of California system, once a crown jewel of public education in the United States, has been struggling with funding problems, management issues and labor relations for more than a decade as the state faces declining revenues and fiscal management problems. One of the consequences has been repeatedly stalled labor negotiations, with unions fighting to secure better working conditions and pay. AFSCME 3299, the union that covers service workers and UC hospital personnel, has been fighting particularly hard for better conditions and staffing, citing concerns about patient care in UC hospitals.

The union argues that in a strike earlier this year, UC personnel used intimidation and other tactics in an attempt to suppress the strike and retaliate against individual union members and organizers. Their May walkout surrounded unsafe staffing levels at UC medical facilities, an issue that should concern the public as well as the administration. This time around, union members are fighting back against unfair labor practices with the aim of getting back to the negotiating table and protecting their patients. Walking out twice in the same year over an unresolved problem is an unfortunate consequence of sluggishness on the part of the administration, but this strike is special.

When graduate student employees voted to authorize a strike in solidarity last week, their action made history. By standing in solidarity with other union employees, they’re helping to show a united face to the world, and they’re adding weight to an already significant protest. Between the two protesting groups, UC campuses will be effectively shut down, as service workers and graduate student employees play a significant role in keeping campuses running. If they can convince other workers as well as students to refuse to cross the picket line, UC campuses could end up looking like a ghost town.

Gilliam Chisom, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley articulates why she’s participating in the strike:

[O]ne of the major aims of the sympathy strike with the service workers is to help put pressure on the administration, given that we’re facing some of the same problems. It sounds to me like their situation is in many ways analogous to ours, in the sense that they’re also facing inadequate staffing levels, which adversely affect their working conditions as well as the well-being of the undergraduates. Personally, since I started teaching last year I’ve frequently experienced frustration at my inability to give my students the individual time and attention that they need and deserve. When we’re overworked and underpaid, it makes it harder for us to do our jobs effectively, and ultimately we pass that cost on to the undergraduates. In other words, being part of a university means that we’re all interdependent, which is why I think it’s important to support the service workers.

Service workers and graduate students alike are challenging the popular belief that unions only engage in labor actions for their own gain, as both are striking in the interest of the populations they serve. Their concerns revolve around the fact that pay cuts, understaffing and working pressures mean they can’t serve students and patients to the best of their abilities, and they aim to change that.

Photo credit: Andrew Ratto.


Charles P.
Charles P4 years ago

Mother Jones said it. "A hurt to one is an injury to all."

Karen Chestney
Karen Chestney4 years ago

Awesome !!! .......Yes, we are all interdependent ........Stand as one and stand strong !

Anne Moran
Anne Moran4 years ago

Got to stick together for the common good...

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Betsy Bee
Fiona Ogilvie4 years ago


Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F4 years ago


Spencer Young
Spencer Young4 years ago

Way to unite in the fight for right

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L4 years ago

As a native Californian and a graduate of the California system I am ashamed at what I have heard and witness over the years. I am also a 41 year hospital executive that worked in teaching hospitals associated with California UC system and it is a shame what I have personally witness of the UCSF Hospital in San Francisco. Patient care use to be the top priority in these hospitals and the students first in the Universities. My partner along with our two daughters and one of my nieces are all graduates of the UC system from Humboldt to UC Berkley, UC Santa Cruse and USC. The care of the patients at UCSF, as I witness my mother and my sister going through this hospital and clinic, is terrible. There are also too many physicians that do not speak English well so the communication between physician and patient is hampered. The California UC system needs new leadership; one that can take control and once again make the Universities and healthcare system the stars it once was, while making sure patients and students come first.

As an aside it is time for professors to do what they are actually paid for and that is to teach; their research and book writing should come after they have done their job as a teaching professor. I have always believed that students are short change by graduate/student teachers. Many students chose to attend certain universities thinking they are going to be taught by a certain professor and then they never see him/her.

Dmitry Nikiforov
Dmitry Nikiforov4 years ago

thank you

Krish S.
Krish Away4 years ago