A group of striking University of California workers held a sit-in Monday at a downtown Sacramento building, where police officers surrounded them for a few hours before citing them for trespassing.
The workers are demanding that UC administration officials resume bargaining in negotiations with a union representing about 48,000 academic worker. The strike is in its fourth week.
The sit-in coincided with a march on the building, the UC Center Sacramento at 1130 K Street. The center is a teaching, research and public-service site operated by UC Davis that offers an academic program in public policy to students from throughout the UC system.
Most of the workers gathered with picket signs outside the building. Seventeen workers, including some from UC Davis and UC Berkeley, made their way into the building, holding a sit-in as Sacramento police officers surrounded the demonstration inside the lobby.
“It’s shameful that it has to come to this point,” said Elias Bunting, 24, who was one of the 17 workers who participated in the sit-in and were cited for trespassing. “It’s not like we asked for a higher wage yesterday and today we’re out here getting arrested. Some of us have been asking for a fair wage for over a year.”
Bunting is a first-year doctoral candidate in plant pathology at UC Davis. He said the academic workers pushed their way into the locked building about 1 p.m. after one of them posed as a delivery person with packages.
As Bunting went in through the doors, the building’s lone security guard grabbed him by the back of the neck and started hitting him, he said. Bunting pointed to a bloodied bandage on his knee, saying the security guard had injured him.
The labor union representing the student research workers organized demonstrations on Monday, including sit-ins and marches throughout California.
“Our goal is to make UC a more just, equitable place to work, and we’re not willing to let UC call it quits before we’ve made further progress toward that goal,” Rafael Jaime, president of UAW Local 2865, said in a news release. “The leaders of this university need to ensure that negotiations continue so that we can reach fair agreements and return to teaching and research with dignified wages and working conditions. The strike continues.”
Ryan King, associate director of media relations for the UC Office of the President, said on Monday evening the proposals the UC has made to the UAW are “fair, reasonable and honor the important contributions these bargaining unit members make toward UC’s mission of education and research.” He said the UC’s bargaining team has met daily with union representatives, except for the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, to reach an agreement.
“The proposals offered by the University to the UAW would place our graduate students and academic employees at the top of the pay scale across major public universities and on par with top private universities,” Kings said in an email to The Sacramento Bee. “We remain hopeful that we will conclude a fair agreement with the remaining units in this negotiation.”
The workers initially met with legislative allies for a large rally Monday outside the Capitol. After learning a group of the workers had staged a sit-in inside Sacramento building, workers outside the Capitol marched there to join them.
By 3 p.m., the large majority of the workers remained outside the UC Center building. The workers demonstrating inside were sitting on the floor as Sacramento Police Department officers encircled them. Police officers were not allowing news reporters inside the building.
Police said officers were at the scene “monitoring the demonstration.” The Police Department confirmed that as of 3:45 p.m. no arrests had been made.
Shortly before 5 p.m. — when the building was scheduled to close for the day — officers gave the workers inside the fourth and final dispersal order. The workers refused to leave. The officers cited and released the 17 workers. Nobody was taken into custody. The workers were each given a date to appear in Sacramento Superior Court.
The UC delivered what it called its “final” offer to workers early Saturday morning, according to the workers. The UAW represents academic workers in three separate bargaining units at all 10 campuses.
Last week, the UC reached a tentative contract agreement with 12,000 of those academic workers; a deal that calls for raises of 20% or more for postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers, as well as increases in benefits.
Union organizers representing student researchers, teaching assistants and other academic student employees, said the offer was the most movement they’ve seen from the university on wages, but it still wouldn’t be enough to support some members.
“I feel very reinvigorated,” said Tanzil Chowdhury, 24, a bargaining team member for SRU-UAW. “What happens at the bargaining table is largely driven by what our coworkers are doing out here on the streets.”
Chowdhury, a third-year doctoral candidate at Berkeley, works as a graduate student research assistant at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the materials science department. He attended the Saturday bargaining session via video call and joined strikers in Sacramento on Monday.