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University of California academic workers strike to stand up for pro-Palestinian protesters

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz walked off their jobs and went on strike Monday, the first campus to do so as part of a systemwide protest against a public university they say has violated the speech rights of pro-Palestinian advocates.

United Auto Workers Local 4811 represents 48,000 graduate students who work as teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and other academic employees on the 10-campus UC system. Organizers said the campuses will not strike all at once, opting instead for rolling strikes, to protest the arrests and forcible ejection by police of union members who participated in demonstrations calling for an end to the war in Gaza.

Rebecca Gross, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student in literature and union leader, said at least 1,500 people were on strike Monday and had no plans to return to work until the union reaches a deal with the university. Students and researchers are not teaching, grading or working in their labs, and they are withholding data, she said.

“Police were unleashed and given the go-ahead to arrest protesters,” at the Los Angeles, San Diego and Irvine campuses, she said.

University officials say the strike is unlawful and in violation of the union’s contract, which prohibits work stoppages. Both sides have filed unfair labor practice complaints with the California Public Employment Relations Board.

The union is demanding amnesty for all academic employees, students and faculty who face disciplinary action or arrest due to the protests. It’s also seeking divestment from UC’s investments in weapons makers, contractors and companies aiding Israel in its war against Hamas, among other issues.

Tobias Higbie, a labor historian and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA, said it is not unusual for unions to flex their muscle over broad workplace issues that are not narrowly tied to wages and benefits.

“They’re not everyday events, and maybe not even every year events,” he said. “But they’re not unheard of.”

The union’s action may be surprising to some, but so was what happened at UCLA earlier this month, Higbie said. On May 1, police in riot gear ordered the dispersal of more than a thousand people gathered on campus to support Palestine, and warned that those who refused to leave would face arrest.

The night before, police had waited to intervene as counter-protesters attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, causing injuries. California Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced the delay.

Scott Hernandez-Jason, an assistant vice chancellor with UC Santa Cruz, said afternoon classes are being conducted remotely Monday.

“Our primary goal is to minimize the disruptive impact, especially given the many educational and research challenges that have affected students and researchers in recent years,” he said in an email. “Academic and operational continuity is essential to the University of California’s education and research mission and a core responsibility to our students.”

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