Friday, June 14, 2024

UCLA workers walk off the job to call out university’s response to Gaza protests

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UCLA workers walked off the job Tuesday to protest the university’s response to Gaza demonstrations at the campus, alleging workers’ rights have been violated.

Researchers, graduate student teaching assistants, and other academic workers with the United Auto Workers (UAW) 4811 union staged the walkout to speak out against the handling of campus demonstrations and pro-Palestinian encampments that emerged at colleges across the U.S. The union joins critics including hundreds of UCLA faculty members and some lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who say UCLA leadership’s decision to call in outside law enforcement to dismantle the encampment infringed on students’ and workers’ First Amendment rights. Police in riot gear arrested more than 200 people at the protests.

UCLA workers walked off the job to demonstrate against the university’s response to campus protests over the war in Gaza.


Workers at the Westwood campus marched toward the Bruin statue this afternoon, creating a long line that looped around buildings as they carried “UAW On Strike” signs.

Academic workers at UC Davis were also expected to take part in Tuesday’s walkout. The union’s strike started last week with workers at UC Santa Cruz picketing, holding up signs calling for fair labor practices and divestment, a key demand of pro-Palestinian protesters at U.S. universities.

UAW 4811 represents 48,000 academic workers across all 10 UC campuses.

At the campus Tuesday, Caroline Luce, a historian who chairs the communications committee of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers at UCLA, told the crowd the university “has failed us.”

“Instead of protecting our rights to free speech and assembly, Chancellor (Gene) Block’s administration has actively hindered them, rendering our students and our colleagues vulnerable to assault and arrest,” Luce said.

The union first announced a potential strike the night after an attack on a pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA. In a statement, the union says a group of counter-protesters were “hitting protesters including members of UAW 4811 with sticks, spraying them with bear spray, and pelting them with bottles and fireworks.” UCLA police made their first arrest in the April 30 attack this week.

Luce described what happened on April 30 as “the worst incident of violence in our campus’ history.”

Along with allegations of failing to protect protesters, the union alleges, UC leaders called in riot police to shut down protests.

“From the hours of unchecked violence at UCLA, to the continued use of riot police at campuses like UCLA, UCSD, and UC Irvine, UC has continuously violated workers’ rights to free expression in our workplace despite UC police that should have protected us,” the union’s website reads.

Union leaders are calling for no arrests, expulsions, suspensions, or other disciplinary action against students and workers taking part in the protests as well as the university’s divestment from “weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and companies profiting from Israel’s war on Gaza.”

The University of California has called some of the union’s demands “politically motivated,” and therefore says, the strike is not legal. The public university system filed a court order with the state labor board last week attempting to stop the walkout, stating it would violate a “no-strike” clause in the union’s contract and is not legal.

“UAW’s strike is unlawful because the goal is to pressure the University to concede to a list of politically motivated demands closely linked to the protests occurring across California and the nation,” reads a May 21 statement from the UC Office of the President.

California’s Public Employment Relations Board declined the UC’s request for injunctive relief, which would have put an immediate end to the strike. While it rejected the UC’s request, the labor board ordered the University and union to engage in formal mediation.

UCLA workers rallied against the university’s response to Gaza protests with a mass walkout. 

Workers at UC campuses will be called on by the union’s leadership at different times to strike as part of its “Stand Up” protests, rather than having all union members demonstrate together at the same time. The union has said the leadership of UC schools has not negotiated with student protesters the same way other U.S. universities have, stating management at the California campuses “must change course.”

“At several other universities across the country, management has taken protesters’ demands seriously and begun negotiations with coalitions of students, workers, and community members over their divestment from companies supplying arms to Israel’s war in Gaza,” reads a statement the union released earlier this month. “This option is open to UC as well.”

Last week, Democratic Rep. Mark Takano of California’s 41st congressional district asked Chancellor Block why UCLA leadership did not engage in negotiations with demonstrators, calling what happened at UCLA “an unfortunate contrast” to the other two schools whose leaders were questioned at the Congressional hearing, Rutgers and Northwestern universities.

While deals were made with protesters at those campuses, there was no such deal at UCLA — instead, outside law enforcement agencies responded, dismantled the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, and arrested more than 200 people.

Block said there was “a real attempt for discussion” which proved unsuccessful.

He said a UCLA vice chancellor sat inside the encampment with protesters and “discussed potential solutions” but that did not lead to any agreement.  LAPD and other police were only called in when it appeared the safety of the entire campus was at risk, according to Block.

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