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What is a strike?
A strike is a work stoppage that workers engage in together to force the employer to bargain in good faith and reach fair agreements. Striking is a last-resort tactic that Graduate Student Workers would decide to use only in cases where our employer refuses to come to the bargaining table lawfully and with a fair offer.
Because Graduate Student Workers do so much critical teaching and research work at USC, a work stoppage would have immensely disruptive effects and would be a major step in forcing USC administration to reconsider their negotiating tactics and make major movement at the bargaining table.
What led to the Strike Authorization Vote and potential strike?
Since forming our union back in February with a 93% YES vote and a clear mandate to demand and win progress on wages, benefits, and workplace protections, USC has not come to the table with serious proposals on these issues and has evaded their obligations under the law. Here is a rough timeline of events that led up to the Strike Authorization Vote:
- After numerous town halls and surveys, as well as thousands of organizing conversations, a supermajority of GSWs signed Union Authorization Cards and filed for union recognition in December of 2022.
- In December of 2022, USC administration decided to not voluntarily recognize our union despite overwhelming support from GSWs, and engaged in an anti-union campaign orchestrated by a billion-dollar anti-union law firm to try to convince GSWs to vote against forming a union.
- In February, we GSWs voted overwhelmingly to form a union anyway with a 93% YES vote and a strong majority of GSWs voting in the election.
- In April, a majority of GSWs ratified initial bargaining demands, which called for improvements to several areas of GSW life, including pay, healthcare, financial & legal support for international GSWs, protections against workplace abuse, and union rights.
- In June, over 80 GSWs showed up to a bargaining session to support the bargaining team as they introduced three key articles, including Immigration & Work Authorization and Nondiscrimination.
- In August, after two months of delay, USC administration finally submitted counteroffers on Immigration & Work Authorization and Nondiscrimination. Admin’s counter on Nondiscrimination proposed preventing GSWs who face workplace discrimination / harassment from filing a grievance under the contract, forcing GSWs to only use USC-controlled processes. Their counter on Immigration & Work Authorization was similarly unacceptable; proposing no additional legal or financial support for international GSWs.
- In August, in response to admin’s delays and unacceptable counteroffers, roughly 1500 GSWs signed onto the United for Workplace Justice letter, which called on USC admin to bargain over these issues in good faith and make fair offers.
- On August 31st, 300+ GSWs attended the United for Workplace Justice rally where LA City Councilwoman Nithya Raman spoke in solidarity, and marched to deliver the letter to Provost Guzman at his office.
- In the first bargaining session since the rally, the University responded on Immigration and Union Rights by agreeing to create a legal support fund for international scholars facing visa issues, and agreed to provide the Union with information regarding bargaining unit members and to allow union orientations to coincide with new graduate student events.
- In their first offer on economics (wages, childcare, healthcare, leaves, and parking & transit), USC administration offered an insultingly bad proposal, which included no additional raise for this Academic Year and 1.5% (well below inflation) increases for subsequent years.
- Since then, USC administration has increased their offer marginally, still offering no additional increase to the minimum stipend and doubling down on below-inflation increases
- Admin’s second offer on Nondiscrimination, which came more than two months after their previous one, maintained their insulting and unacceptable position that discrimination and harassment should be exempt from the grievance process.
- On October 24th-26th, Graduate Student Workers took a Strike Authorization Vote, to authorize the bargaining team to call a strike in the future if circumstances justify. 2,158 Graduate Student Workers – 95.1% of those voting – voted to authorize a strike. 70% of GSWs voted in the Strike Authorization Vote.
- On November 9th, after continued bad-faith bargaining from USC administration, over 500 Graduate Student Workers participated in a “Last Chance Picket” to demonstrate to USC administration that GSWs are ready to to walk off the job without further movement from admin.
- On November 10th, the bargaining team set a strike deadline: November 28th.
After over seven months of bargaining, USC administration has demonstrated that they won’t follow their legal obligations and pass good-faith and fair proposals on important issues unless we force them to do so. These actions have given Graduate Student Workers no choice but to prepare for a strike starting November 28th.
I’m an International GSW. Can I go on strike?
Yes. International GSWs have the same rights under federal labor law to participate in union activities, including striking, as all other GSWs do. Thousands of international GSWs at the University of California participated in their SAV and ultimately went on strike last year, and this strike resulted in historic wage gains, new benefits, and industry-best protections against workplace bullying.
Participating in union activity (such as a strike) would not affect your student visa, and retaliation against any GSW, including international GSWs, is illegal. USC’s own FAQ states that “International Students are able to strike if they so choose. Striking will not impact visa status.”
Our greatest protection as GSWs, however, comes from our willingness to go on strike in mass numbers – to do it together, alongside our labmates, classmates, and coworkers.
Do strikes work? What makes a strike effective?
Like any union action, mass participation is the key to an effective strike. Because us 3200+ GSWs perform such critical labor for the day-to-day functioning of USC, mass participation in a strike would be incredibly disruptive and would provide GSWs with significant leverage at the bargaining table to address USC’s bargaining behavior.
The external pressure generated by a strike would also provide us GSWs with leverage at the table. Striking would attract support for our campaign from important elected officials that USC administration wants to keep happy, media scrutiny that USC administration wants to avoid, and solidarity for us from other unions across Los Angeles, including other unionized workers at USC.
USC administration knows that a Graduate Student Worker strike would be damaging for them, and that’s why a credible strike threat is our greatest asset at the bargaining table.
Can I be retaliated against for going on strike?
Absolutely not. Workers in the US — regardless of visa status — have the right to strike. Federal labor law is clear that it is illegal to retaliate against any worker for participating in a protected strike.
Federal labor law protects workers from any form of retaliation, including retaliation that impedes a GSW’s academic progress. GSWs whose individual research intersects with our duties as a Research Assistant have the right to strike our entire research workload. Moreover, workers cannot be threatened with retaliation to dissuade us not to strike.
USC admin themselves are aware of the illegality of retaliation for striking. USC’s own FAQ states that “just as faculty may not retaliate against graduate student workers who choose to strike, graduate student workers who choose to continue working during a strike should be welcome to do so without fear of negative repercussions from faculty, staff, or fellow students.”
Ultimately, our greatest source of strength comes from mass participation. Attempts at illegal retaliation will be highly unlikely if GSWs go on strike because of thousands of us will do so together.
When will a strike happen?
Without fair offers from USC administration, Graduate Student Workers will go on strike starting November 28th.
A strike is far from certain, however. If USC administration stops committing Unfair Labor Practices and comes to the table with fair offers on wages, childcare, union rights, and nondiscrimination, there will be no need to go on strike. There is still time for USC administration to come back to the table lawfully and with fair offers to avert a strike.
In the meantime, GSWs have plenty of time to make contingency plans for our research.
What are the conditions that would prompt the Bargaining Team to call a strike?
If USC administration does one or more of the following without changing their position:
- Continues to pass unacceptable offers on wages, including failing to agree to a fair and livable wage and failing to agree to provide timely pay
- Continues to pass unacceptable offers on key equity issues such as grievable protections for those who face workplace harassment, bullying, and discrimination, including discrimination against international GSWs based on visa status
- Continues to pass unacceptable offers on key union rights issues, such as our right as GSWs to maintain a union shop
- Continues to delay counteroffers at the bargaining table, arbitrarily and needlessly pushing back the timeline for GSWs to have a first union contract
- Engages in Unfair Labor Practices, such as the failure to provide basic information related to compensation and benefits, that violate labor law
Then the bargaining team would be forced to consider calling a strike, in order to ensure that USC GSWs’ first union contract is a good contract and reached fairly.
What behaviors has the University engaged in that are Unlawful or Violations of the Law?
USC administration has engaged in a variety of unlawful behaviors at the bargaining table. First and foremost, they have failed to provide necessary and relevant information that the bargaining team needs to bargain GSWs’ first collective bargaining agreement. The team has been missing key information regarding who the University considers in the bargaining unit, basic benefits information, compensation information, and information regarding non-discrimination and workplace abuse since bargaining began.
What would a strike look like for me as a Teaching Assistant / Assistant Lecturer?
Teaching Assistant and Assistant Lecturers perform a great deal of the teaching work here at USC. During a strike, we Teaching Assistants and Assistant Lecturers would collectively decide to immediately stop all work performed on behalf of the University, including lecturing, grading, lesson planning, office hours, and administrative work.
What would a strike look like for me as a Research Assistant?
Research Assistants carry out a critical role in USC’s lucrative research initiatives, powering USC’s labs and research centers that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars of grant money and provide incalculable benefits to USC’s reputation. As Research Assistants, we would collectively decide to immediately stop all work performed on behalf of the University, including lab work, field research, lab meetings, grant writing, and administrative work.
Federal labor law protects workers from any form of retaliation, including retaliation that impedes a GSW’s academic progress. GSWs whose individual research intersects with our duties as a Research Assistant have the right to strike our entire research workload.
What would happen to my pay if I went on strike?
During a strike, USC has the right to withhold pay from striking GSWs. In the event of a strike, GSWs will be eligible for $500 per week of strike assistance from the UAW strike fund, contingent on meeting 20 hrs/wk strike duty requirements, such as picket line shifts. We GSWs will also establish and fundraise for a hardship fund to provide assistance and mutual aid to workers who experience emergency financial hardship due to lost pay.
How long would a potential strike last?
It’s impossible to say how long a strike would last and highly contingent on the timing of when USC administration would come to the table with a fair offer. In general, strikes work when there is mass participation and majority support that force the employer to come to the bargaining table with fair offers and end the strike.
What should I do with my live test subjects if we choose to strike?
It’s ultimately USC’s responsibility to make sure that basic lab maintenance happens during a strike. There are also ways that you can prepare for a potential strike. These plans could include advance-planning your experiments or informing supervisors that they may need to make alternative plans to take care of your subjects. In the leadup to a potential strike, it is important to engage in collective decisionmaking and contingency planning as a lab.
Will striking hurt me/my PI more than the university?
While participating in a strike would require all of us GSWs to make sacrifices, striking also would give GSWs the collective power to force USC administration to bargain in good faith at the table, putting pressure on them to agree to a contract that would secure vital improvements on campus. When we take action together, it results in a massive collective and cumulative effect felt across USC. A fair contract, where GSWs are paid what we’re worth and have safe working conditions, will, in turn, improve teaching and research at USC.
What does striking look like if I’m a Fellow who’s not considered part of the bargaining unit?
First, there has been no Tentative Agreement (TA) on Recognition, which will define who is and isn’t a member of the bargaining unit (i.e. those covered by the union contract). USC wants to exclude as many fellows as possible from the bargaining unit, and we GSWs want as big a tent as possible, recognizing that fellows do perform labor on behalf of the university and deserve to be protected under a union contract. Right now, all internal fellows in STEM fields are guaranteed to be members of the bargaining unit, but ambiguity exists around which external fellows will be part of the unit.
If you’re a fellow who won’t be part of the bargaining unit (i.e. a non-STEM fellow who is not performing work that could be considered bargaining unit work): it’s likely that your work would not be covered by the strike. However, your participation in major actions (such as joining the picket line or being part of your Department Organizing Committee) is not only allowed, but critical to the campuswide campaign to win a strong contract. The first union contract will have major repercussions for your current and future compensation and working conditions, and taking part in union actions is highly encouraged. It will be important to engage in collective decisions in your lab, cohort, and department to determine the best course of action.
If you’re a fellow who is unsure about whether you will be in the bargaining unit: it’s possible that bargaining progress over the coming weeks will provide more clarity on your status by the time of any potential strike. In the meantime, fellows unsure about our bargaining unit status should prepare like any other GSW for a potential strike.
Should I keep working my other, non-union USC job (e.g. writing center)?
Any potential strike would result in GSWs stopping our “bargaining unit work.” Bargaining unit work refers to labor we perform in our capacity as Research Assistants, Teaching Assistants, Assistant Lecturers, or in-unit Fellows.
A stoppage of work that falls outside of our bargaining unit work (for example, a position at the writing center) would not be considered a protected work stoppage, although it’s possible that your supervisor(s) at your other USC job would support you in stopping that work as well.
What was the Strike Authorization Vote (SAV)?
The Strike Authorization Vote was a vote of all GSWs that authorized the bargaining team to call a strike in the future, if circumstances justify. 2,158 GSWs (95.1%) voted in favor of authorizing a strike, out of 2,269 who voted. This vote not only formally authorized a strike, but also sent a clear message to USC administration that thousands of GSWs are ready to walk off the job.