‘Shut it down!’: Picketers disrupt UC regents meeting as strike drags into 5th week

A singer-guitarist performs onstage in front of a crowd holding signs reading: "UAW on strike unfair labor practice."
Musician and labor activist Tom Morello performs for striking University of California academic workers and faculty rallying at UCLA, where the UC Board of Regents was meeting Wednesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Hundreds of striking UC academic student workers — whose massive five-week walkout has disrupted finals week and stirred angst among students and faculty about term grades — converged on the UCLA campus Wednesday shouting for better pay and benefits and a swift end to the contract dispute.

A small group of picketers delayed the meeting of the UC regents for hours by refusing to leave the room. Later, another group interrupted a committee meeting, said UC spokesperson Ryan King. About 15 were cited by university police and were peacefully escorted from the room, he said.

When the meeting originally scheduled for 10 a.m. at UCLA’s Luskin Center finally convened after 1 p.m., a member of the striking unions took the microphone during public comment.


“Your role as regents is to advocate for the improvement of the university, this includes the financial and physical well-being of those who make the university run,” said Wesleigh Gates, a doctoral candidate at UCLA.

Gates then, with a fist in the air, led about two dozen in attendance into “Shut it down” chants. When regents later allowed for phone comments, someone named Denyz called in from the rally and had cries of “Shut it down!” and “Whose university? Our university!” fill the line.

Adu Vengal, a third-year math doctoral student at UC San Diego, said he was among a group of protesters who occupied the conference room early Wednesday and were handcuffed and cited for trespassing and unlawful assembly.

The UCLA Police Department did not immediately respond to questions about the citations.

“We want to go back to work with dignified wages and working conditions, but we can’t do that until the Regents ensure fair contracts,” Vengal said. “So we came to make sure that they do.”

About 36,000 academic employees, like Vengal, remain on strike. They are all students, including researchers and teaching assistants, the latter of whom grade papers, run discussion classes and proctor exams, playing key roles in the education of undergraduates. Last week, the two units of the United Auto Workers who represent those workers agreed to voluntary mediation as negotiations stalled over compensation.

Morgaine Mandigo-Stoba, a third-year doctoral student in the physics department at UCLA, was among the workers who showed up to the rally Wednesday. She said she was energized by the demonstration and by what she feels are insufficient contract proposals from UC.


“We are not ready to go home,” she said. “Their proposals — their refusal to give us a serious offer — has definitely lit a fire under people.”

About 48,000 unionized academic workers across the University of California’s 10 campuses walked off the job, calling for better pay and benefits.

Jan. 9, 2022

At the rally, Tom Morello, former guitarist with Rage Against the Machine, stood on the flatbed of a truck and led the workers in songs that included lines like, “Sí, se puede!” and “Hold the line!”

Gloria Bartolo, a second-year doctoral student studying molecular biology at UCLA, said the physical toll and time away from research is weighing on her. But she is holding steadfast to the strike’s goals.

“This isn’t the end game, to strike forever. We want this to end,” she said. “But we want this to end on a fair contract.”

The union has demanded significant pay increases so employees can afford housing in the high-cost areas where most UC campuses are located, calling the system’s current wages and benefits “unlivable” and detrimental to their mental health and capacity for teaching and conducting research.

While UC has made offers that include salary increases, the raises have been far short of the demands from union leaders. However, the two sides have agreed tentatively to new anti-bullying protections, expanded paid parental leave and some new commuting support.

UC officials have repeatedly said it is making proposals that are “fair, reasonable and responsive to the union’s priorities.”


Bartolo makes $37,500 a year as a graduate student researcher, which she said is on the higher end of pay for her position.

The voluntary mediation means a neutral third party will step in to help both sides break through stalled negotiations, especially salary issues.

Dec. 9, 2022

To get by financially, Bartolo said she receives food stamps. She and other residents who live in her university-owned apartment building also used to run an informal food bank in the complex, where they traveled to food pantries on a weekly basis to gather produce and canned goods for one another.

“I grew up in poverty. I grew up qualifying for food stamps,” said Bartolo, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees. “It’s upsetting — I feel like I should have moved up.”

Darrell Steinberg, the mayor of Sacramento and former leader of the state Senate, has stepped in to mediate the labor dispute. Steinberg helped broker an agreement earlier this year between Kaiser Permanente and roughly 2,000 mental health clinicians who had been on strike, and also was credited for a settlement with labor union leaders needed to advance the multi-million dollar Aggie Square project on UC Davis’ campus.

Last Friday, the same day both sides agreed to mediation, union leaders representing postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers — about 12,000 employees who had also been on strike — approved a new contract with the university. The new agreement included raises that moved the minimum annual pay for these full-time employees from about $55,000 to $70,000 or higher — including a $12,000 raise by next October.

About 48,000 unionized academic workers across the University of California’s 10 campuses walked off the job, calling for better pay and benefits.

Jan. 9, 2022

The contract also required these employees to return to work Monday.

But about 75% of the academic employees who first took to the picket line in mid-November are still on strike, with many ready to continue into winter quarter.


UC’s 10 campuses are now on winter break, but the strike had big implications during finals week, with many exams canceled or modified, undergraduate grades withheld and ongoing research in labs stymied.

Gates said the strike remains steadfast, even without classes in session.

“Between the show of numbers and strength in solidarity at the big rally in the morning, and then following it up with the disruption of the meeting itself, we have been able to show the regents and show the UC that our strike still has strength,” Gates said. “We’re not going anywhere and we’re out here to win a fair contract.”