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For some UC academic workers who are parents, the paycheck falls painfully short

A man speaks into a megaphone. Behind him are people marching with signs.
Alex Chubick, a student researcher, leads fellow demonstrators in a chant at UCLA.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Nov. 16. I’m Ruben Vives, a Times Metro reporter covering homelessness in Los Angeles County. Let’s begin.

The nation’s largest academic strike was headed into a third straight day after 48,000 unionized workers across the University of California system walked out Monday, demanding better wages and benefits.

There are four UAW bargaining units that represent workers including postdoctoral scholars, academic researchers, graduate student researchers and academic student employees, which includes teaching assistants and tutors.

[Read more: “UC workers say they are struggling to survive in California. Will strike bring change?”]

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One of the issues at the heart of the strike is the plight of academic workers who are parents struggling to make ends meet.

Dr. Stephanie Redmond, a postdoctoral fellow at Arturo Alvarez-Buylla Lab at the University of California San Francisco, posted on Twitter about the financial burden facing academic workers who — like herself — have young children.

A week of daycare services at the University of San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus, for instance, is set to cost $3,190 a month beginning next year, she noted. “Starting postdocs make $4,636/month (pre-tax),” she tweeted. Add rent to the equation and workers can quickly be in over their heads.

I talked with Redmond by phone Tuesday night. The mother of an 11-month-old girl, she said she and her husband decided to move to Walnut Creek — more than 20 miles from UCSF — because day care and rent were more affordable there.

“It’s something that everybody struggles with — proximity to work or affordability,” she said. “The only way we can make that work is that my husband was near day care so he can do pick-ups and drop-offs.”

Redmond says she spends about 90 minutes each way commuting.

Union officials, to spread the campaign message, highlight stories about academic workers facing day-care and housing affordability issues. Charlotte Lorenz, who until this summer was a postdoctoral researcher in neurobiology at UC San Diego, said she would spend all of her pay on child-care services for her two children when she was working at the university.

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In its own survey, the union found that 86% of UC postdocs with children had child-care costs that exceeded the affordability limit set by the federal government.

“The lack of affordable child care for postdocs contributes to gender inequity,” Lorenz said in a union campaign video, adding that 50% of PhD graduates in STEM are women but they make up only 30% of the faculty staff.

UC officials, saying fair and competitive pay for all employees is a UC priority and essential, have proposed a child-care reimbursement program that would provide up to $2,500 a year for eligible postdocs; for graduates, it would be $4,050. They’re also offering to increase paid pregnancy and family leaves.

Union officials, however, say they’ve asked for $2,000 in day-care reimbursements — monthly. Redmond said although she appreciated that the university was acknowledging the need for day care, their offer wouldn’t go far enough.

But affordable child care is just one of the issues at the heart of the strike. Union leaders are demanding substantial wage increases amid growing housing costs on and near many of the UC campuses, among other priorities, according to the union’s website.

The Times reports that union leaders want graduate student workers — who are teaching assistants and tutors — to have a base salary of $54,000, a hefty increase from the $24,000 they’re currently being paid. For postdoctoral employees, the union is asking for a minimum salary of $70,000, which would be, on average, a $10,000 increase.

It’s unknown how long the strike will last. So far, union negotiating team members and UC officials have come to a tentative agreement on three points.

Ryan King, a UC spokesperson, said academic workers make meaningful contributions to the university system’s teaching and research mission — and that the current offers are sufficient.

“We believe our offers of fair pay, quality health and family-friendly benefits, among other proposals, are fair, reasonable and responsive to the union’s concerns,” he said in a statement.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

L.A. STORIES

There’s a new sheriff in town. Robert Luna, the former Long Beach Police Chief, will be the next sheriff of Los Angeles County after incumbent Alex Villanueva conceded the race. Luna had a 20-percentage-point lead in the vote count, making it difficult for Villanueva to catch up. Los Angeles Times

Check out "The Times" podcast for essential news and more

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

In California, some conservative voters support abortion rights. In some of the state’s most conservative counties, where anti-abortion candidates are leading in partial returns, the same voters also supported Proposition 1, the measure that will amend the state’s Constitution to protect a person’s right to an abortion and maintain access to contraceptives. Sacramento Bee

Democrat Christy Smith knows she’ll lose her congressional race. She blames her own party. “Our campaign got next-to-zero outside resources to fight this battle,” said Smith of the race for California’s 27th District. Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Josh Harder defeated GOP challenger Tom Patti for a Stockton-centered congressional district. And in Riverside County, Rep. Ken Calvert defeated Democrat Will Rollins. Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

California’s Justice Department struggles to investigate police shootings. A new law last year put the responsibility of investigating police killings of unarmed people in the hands of the state agency. Since then, budget cuts and staff shortage have made it difficult for the department to keep up. So far, it has solved one of the 25 opened investigations. CalMatters

No charges filed against deputies who killed Dijon Kizzee. In a 19-page memo, prosecutors said they believed that two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies had to use force because they felt their lives were threatened. The fatal shooting led to protests and outrage for days in the city. Los Angeles Times

Suspect in Paul Palosi attack enters plea. David DePape, the 42-year-old man accused of beating House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer last month at their San Francisco home, pleaded not guilty to assault and attempted kidnapping charges. It was DePape’s first federal courtoom appearance since the attack. The Mercury News

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CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Cleveland sage.
Cleveland sage.
(Marie Astrid Gonzalez / Los Angeles Times)

The most fragrant native plants are just heavenly. Which should you plant now? Our colleague and gardening fan Jeanette Marantos gathered a panel of experts to recommend what to plant, including the Cleveland sage — with aromas from sweet to sharply savory — and the California laurel, a handsome forest tree that can grow from 6 to 60 feet tall. Los Angeles Times

He was the “Wine King of California.” Kanaye Nagasawa, born into a samurai family, was smuggled out of Shogunate, Japan. Eventually, he landed in California, where he would eventually operate one of the largest wineries in California and become the first Japanese national to live permanently in the U.S. BBC

Yosemite National Park officials move to end reservation system. Park officials say that next summer people won’t be required to make reservations online. The reservation system was created during the first two years of the pandemic and remained in effect while renovations at the park were being completed. Los Angeles Times

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 73, sunny. San Diego: 74, sunny. San Francisco: 64, sunny. San Jose: 67, sunny. Fresno: 65, sunny. Sacramento: 65, sunny.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Mike Clark:

It must have been 1962. Dad worked “Downtown” as they called downtown Los Angeles then, and me, Mom and my sister were going to see him. First a bus from Glendale to somewhere where we transferred to a Presidents’ Conference Committee streetcar. Faint memories of bouncing and looking out the window. Memories lit anew as I rode a renovated PCC in San Francisco some years later. Bring them back!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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