LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Thousands of researchers and student employees at the 10 University of California campuses have gone on strike in an effort to secure improved pay and working conditions.
About 48,000 union workers were estimated to have walked off the job at UCLA and nine other UC campuses across the state Monday morning. They voted to strike after months of failed negotiations with UC administrators.
The United Auto Workers union represents several classes of UC employees, including graduate student researchers, student employees, tutors and teaching assistants.
Wages are a key issue. Some workers - many of them graduate students - say they spend more than half their monthly pay on rent.
UC officials are in contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers regarding four separate academic bargaining units: postdoctoral scholars, academic researchers, academic student employees (teaching assistants/readers/tutors) and graduate student researchers, Ryan King, spokesman for the UC President's Office, told City News Service on Sunday.
UAW officials said bargaining teams met late Saturday night and decided to proceed with a strike Monday "unless UC ceases its unlawful conduct in order to reach fair contracts before then.''
"Our primary demand is to get living wages, to have living situations that match the cost of living, that match the vital work that we do to not only sustain the university but make the University of California the prestigious institution that it is," said graduate student researcher Desmond Fonseca.
The University of California issued a statement on the negotiations that reads in part:
"The University of California continues to negotiate in good faith as we do everything possible to mitigate the impacts of any strike actions on our student learning. The University has conducted over 50 bargaining sessions to understand the complex and unique needs of each of the four bargaining units represented by UAW and worked in good faith to offer a fair, multiyear agreement that recognizes the valuable contributions of our Postdoctoral Scholars, Academic Researchers, Academic Student Employees (teaching assistants/readers/tutors), and Graduate Student Researchers."
The school has posted additional details on the university's offer on their website.
Union officials say some of the employees make as little as $24,000 per year. Along with higher salaries and greater annual raises, the workers are demanding free public transit passes, improved child care benefits and greater job security.
"After months at the bargaining table and 26 unfair labor practices filed, we have no choice but to move towards a strike,'' Jade Moore, a bargaining team member, said in a statement.
A work stoppage could have a serious impact in classrooms, potentially leaving classes without instructors and professors without workers to grade assignments. It could also halt a significant portion of the research that occurs at UC campuses.
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City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.