UC students block Berkeley intersection to protest over wages and working conditions

Hundreds of angry UC Berkeley college students – teaching assistants, postdocs and researchers – blocked the intersection of Hearst and Euclid avenues in Berkeley on Tuesday as part of a city-wide protest. the state against working conditions and wages at the 10 University of California campuses.

Graduate student workers gathered in front of the campus’ Campanile bell tower, then marched across campus chanting, “Whose streets belong to?” Our streets! before sitting in a circle in the middle of the intersection under the eyes of employees of neighboring businesses and motorists stuck in traffic.

University students are represented by United Auto Workers, which is negotiating labor contracts on behalf of 48,000 university workers and leading the statewide action.

Student workers at the rally said their salaries were too low and lambasted UC for what they said were insufficient family leave policies and inadequate protections against workplace bullying and harassment.

“We are here to step up the fight,” said Tanzil Chowdhury, a graduate student who is on the union’s Student Researcher Unit bargaining team. “We are not going to put up with the abusive working conditions we find ourselves in.” A research assistant at nearby Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Chowdhury said he struggled to find an apartment with rent under $2,000, which would be more than half his salary.

He said too many working students struggled to pay for childcare and had to rely on food stamps, living in cars or even on the streets.

Union organizers said thousands of university students across the state will take part in similar actions on Tuesday, and together they make up the largest union at the university.

Postdoctoral researchers in the university system have been negotiating with UC for more than a year, the union said. The teaching assistants have been negotiating since March to update a contract that expires in July.

The student researchers began negotiating their first contract this month – and expect a spectacular presentation of their new union membership.

Ahead of the protest, the union representing the three groups of workers accused UC administrators of trying to “claw back” their rights and benefits, including compensation, housing and paid family leave.

Officials from the UC President’s Office system-wide did not immediately respond to requests for comment. UC Berkeley officials referred The Chronicle to the president’s office.

Meanwhile, the union announced that “college union organizing is heating up on the West Coast” as thousands “take to the streets” against what they call workplace abuse.

“Until recently, I had to live without my car while working at UCLA because I couldn’t find affordable housing on my teaching assistant salary,” said Bernard Remollino, teaching assistant and researcher at UCLA, in a statement released by the union. . “I believe UC has a responsibility to ensure that the workers who fuel its education and research mission do not struggle to afford basic necessities.”

Many teaching assistants earn less than $30,000 a year, though pay varies by job title and department, the union said, noting workers, all students, must pay campus fees under current contracts. Almost all university students at UC “are burdened with rent”, the union said, and on average pay more than half their income for rent.

Andy Picon and Nanette Asimov are the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] and [email protected] Twitter: @andpicon and @NanetteAsimov

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