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A Judge Paused The University Of California Strike

Above photo: Pro-Palestinian University of California graduate students strike. Shmuel Thaler/The Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP.

Questions About “No Strike” Provisions Remain.

No strike agreements are almost ubiquitous in union contracts these days, according to labor studies professor Jeff Schuhrke at SUNY Empire State.

Thousands of graduate and postdoctoral student workers at six University of California campuses were back on the job this week after a judge ordered a temporary stop to their weekslong strike.

They’re represented by the United Auto Workers union and initiated the rolling strike to protest the university’s handling of pro-Palestine protests. They also called for related charges and disciplinary actions against their members to be dropped. This temporary order allows for classes to wrap up but leaves some big questions unresolved.

The University has charged that the strike was illegal because it violated the union’s current contract, according to Melissa Matella, associate vice president for labor relations at the UC.

“No matter what, there’s a ‘no strike’ provision in place, and so the union is not allowed to call a strike in the middle of its agreement,” she said.

No strike agreements are almost ubiquitous in union contracts these days, per labor studies professor Jeff Schuhrke at SUNY Empire State.

They date back to the 1930s, when strikes were common, he said. Eventually, companies began to push for unions to agree workers wouldn’t strike as long as a contract was in place.

“The idea was to try to create labor peace, but it sort of served to defang the labor movement in a lot of ways,” Schuhrke said.

In recent years, all the major strikes we’ve seen — by autoworkers or Hollywood writers and actors — have happened when their contracts had expired and they were negotiating a new one.

But workers may have the right to violate no strike agreements in certain cases, according to Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers.

“It usually happens in more extreme circumstances where the workers believe that the employer’s behavior is so egregious that it is, for example, a legal violation,” she said.

That’s what union organizer Rebecca Gross, a graduate teaching assistant at UC Santa Cruz, says the university has done.

“Our union has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against the UC for violating workplace health and safety, violating our First Amendment rights,” she said.

The UAW also argues the university changed its policy on the right to protest, and retaliated and discriminated against union members — some of whom were arrested or ordered to leave campus — when the UC sent police to clear encampments. The UC counters this isn’t a labor issue but a political one.

That distinction has been increasingly contested by the labor movement in recent years, said labor historian John Logan at San Francisco State.

“I think this is sort of reflecting where the energy in the labor movement is right no, that it’s amongst younger workers, often college educated workers, more progressive workers,” he said.

The court and the California Public Employment Relations Board will be weighing in on the strike in coming weeks.

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