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UCI UAW Workers walk off the job and join Stand Up Strike

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UCI academic workers joined the United Auto Workers local 4811 (UAW) Stand Up Strike on June 5 by walking off the job. UAW announced UCI’s call to participate in the University of California (UC)-wide strike last week on May 31, following UC Santa Barbara and San Diego UAW workers, who walked off the job this past Monday. 

The UAW Stand Up Strike alleges that unfair labor practices were committed related to the pro-Palestine encampments on UC campuses. Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges were made by UAW against the UC on May 3. 

UCI’s picket line began at 10 a.m. with workers circling the area near the UCI flagpoles. When workers weren’t picketing, they conversed with others and drew messages on the floor with chalk. Messages included “Amnesty for Protestors,” “Cops off Campus” and “Justice for Students.”

Photo by Skylar Paxton / staff

Earth system science department Ph.D. student and teaching assistant (TA) Tia Chung-Swanson spoke to New University about her experience during the police dismantlement of the encampment and how she was locked out of Crowl Hall when working. 

“The first time I was concerned and worried about my safety was on May 15, when the university decided to bring in over 20 different police departments to just violently arrest over 40 people and locked my office building, not letting me into my office,” Chung-Swanson said. “I tried to go into the building to shelter in place, and that’s when I was told by security that I wasn’t allowed in and that the police would be called on me.”

The UCI Gaza Solidarity Encampment was erected on April 29 and dismantled on May 15, after protesters “reclaimed” the Physical Science Lecture Hall. Police from multiple departments arrived and forcefully cleared the encampment. 47 individuals were arrested. 

UC filed their own ULP charges and requested an injunction from the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) after the strike was authorized

“Allowing the strike to continue will cause the University and its students irreparable harm,” The UC statement announcing the filing of charges read. 

On Monday, PERB rejected the injunction and UC’s revised injunction. UC is now suing UAW for alleged violations of their contract in a state court. 

Photo by Skylar Paxton / staff

New University spoke with academic research assistant in the special staff of sciences and executive board member of UAW 4811 Mia Villegas about the UC’s response to the strike. 

“The Public Employees Relations Board has also repeatedly demonstrated that they believe that our strike is lawful and that our unfair labor practices are serious. We really just continue to put pressure on the university to mediate in good faith with us,” Villegas said. 

PERB has issued complaints against UAW and UC within the past two weeks. The complaint against UAW says that they failed to notify UC prior about the strike and allow an opportunity to discuss. The complaint against UC says that UC changed discipline policies during the dismantlement of the encampment and discouraged members from participating in the strike. 

“We have been in the timeframe [of] mediation with the university, which has been ongoing, regardless of the complaints or the attempts to file the injunctions,” Villegas said. “For us, we’ve taken every position we can to let them know what our intentions have been through filing the ULPs and holding a strike authorization vote.”

New University reached out to the Chancellor’s office for a comment on the strike.

“The university continues to monitor the situation and has developed continuity plans to minimize the disruption of an unlawful strike on the teaching of our students, research and university operations,” the Chancellor’s office said. 

Photo by Skylar Paxton / staff

Last week, UAW 4811 posted on Twitter a video from Elliot Yu, a UCI academic worker and member of the union, sharing his experience of being arrested during the police dismantlement of UCI encampment. 

“For about six hours, my wrists were cuffed in zip ties that were so tight, they dug into my flesh and cut off circulation,” Yu said in the video. “It’s been weeks since these events, but the numbness in my hands have not gone away.” Yu also said he lost his housing after being banned from campus. 

“[Yu is] doing everything he can to make sure what happened to him doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Villegas said. “He is an artist that can’t use his hands. He can’t type anymore. He’s teaching a class. He can’t lift anything more than five pounds. What has happened to him is just so wrong.” 

At 12:45 p.m. around one hundred strikers marched through Aldrich Park to the Physical Sciences Quad — the location of the aforementioned UCI Gaza Solidarity Encampment. As they marched, strikers chanted in protest of the alleged unfair labor practices committed by the university and in favor of divestment. Some chants included “We will not stop, we will not rest, until UCI Divests” and “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes.”  

At 1 p.m. workers stopped at the Physical Sciences Quad to listen to speeches from elected speakers. One of the speakers, history graduate student Mark Gradoni voiced his support for the rally.

 “On May 15, I was one of the 47 people, including eight fellow graduate students, who were arrested when UCI Chancellor ‘Coward’ Gillman sent in more than 200 riot cops to brutalize students, faculty, staff and community members,” Gradoni said to the crowd. 

Gradoni spoke of his fellow graduate students’ experiences in Orange County jail. 

“One of us has come down with COVID, possibly acquired from exposures in the OC jail, where we were prohibited from being spaced and stripped of our masks. Another one of us, after speaking at the rally last Friday, had new student conduct charges added to his case before his hearing on Monday,” Gradoni said. “At every turn, this university administration is going above and beyond not to help their students, faculty and staff but to be as punitive and as cruel as they can be.”

Workers then moved to the Science Library. There, a graduate student led a rally and a “shake down” where participants gradually clapped and then chanted. The student who led the rally played a drum that read “FREE PALESTINE.” 

Photo by Skylar Paxton / staff

At 1:50 p.m. workers left the library and walked back to the flagpoles. On the way back, New University spoke with Hope, a Palestinian community member who requested to omit her last name, about her reasons for supporting the strike and her experience at the encampment dismantlement. 

“It was like a war zone. [Law enforcement] rushed us. I’m 56 years old. I was so scared. I have never run before that fast. It was scary. It was frightening,” Hope said. “I appreciate the students. Anytime the students take to the street, change comes.”

Skylar Paxton is an Opinion Apprentice. She can be reached at paxtons@uci.edu.

Victoria Le is a City News Apprentice. She can be reached at victotl5@uci.edu

Edited by Jaheem Conley