Pay Us Enough to Live Here!
Academic student workers teach approximately half of all educational hours delivered in the UC, for which we are allotted a mere 2% of the UC operations budget. Recent generations of student workers have endured skyrocketing rents throughout California, in some cases by 15% per year and over 50% across the length of our four-year contract. Rent burden is defined as spending 30% or more of your income on rent. It is typical for many of us to spend over half.
The heavy weight of our academic labor — 50% of all UC instruction hours — means that we occupy a chokepoint position within the university from which we can disrupt its normal business operations and fight for alternative models.
We know that real economic gains for academic workers can be won and defended when the rank and file takes direct action. The UC knows this too, which is why real (outpacing inflation) wage increases resulted from our most recent statewide strike in 2014. It is also why the UC promised annual housing stipends to both UCSC and UCLA last year in the context of the wildcats, but only found it possible to take that stipend away from UCLA workers.
This points to an elemental truth of labor politics: whenever we do not fight to preserve the gains we’ve made, our employer will fight to undermine them. For too long, UAW 2865 has not fought. For too long, UAW 2865’s paid leaders have been content while the material conditions of the rank and file have deteriorated, their wages drawn further and further into the rent check.
The statewide struggle for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) was interrupted by the shock of the pandemic. But it demonstrated that rank and file workers are not willing to wait around until the next contract negotiation to demand a living wage (one that keeps pace with California’s astronomical rent increases) and that such a demand, when coupled with militant action by rank and file workers, can create a compelling political opening in an otherwise stale union.
Our current contract was rushed through undemocratically by our union leaders in a summer ratification vote, a quiet capitulation and handshake with the boss. It secured measly inflation-level wage increases, without ever exploring what we might have won by exercising our power to strike.
While current union leaders continue to pat themselves on the back for winning a $100 campus fee remission, RAFA will fight for a 100% fee remission for all ASEs, including undergraduate, international, and professional students. No union worth the name would celebrate a situation where thousands of workers pay $300 of their poverty-level salaries to use the internet at work.
While current union leaders, obsessed with administration over agitation, occupy themselves with the symbolism of gathering strike pledges, RAFA will fight concretely with student workers for a living wage indexed to the rental market, not the price of milk.