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UC Academics cease pro-Palestinian strike following court mandate

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  • A Southern California judge has ordered UC academic workers to end their strike over pro-Palestinian protests, citing harm to students.
  • The union, representing 48,000 workers, argues that the university's handling of demonstrations violates free speech policies and creates a hostile work environment.
  • The legal battle continues, with the future of the strike and the academic year uncertain.

A Southern California judge has mandated that academic workers at the University of California (UC) temporarily halt their strike, which was initiated in response to the treatment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. The strike, led by United Auto Workers Local 4811, began on May 20 at UC Santa Cruz and quickly spread to other campuses, including Davis, Los Angeles, Irvine, San Diego, and Santa Barbara.

Court Intervention and Its Implications

Orange County Superior Court Judge Randall J. Sherman issued the emergency restraining order, emphasizing the potential harm to students who are preparing for their final exams. The university system had argued that the ongoing strike would disrupt the academic calendar and negatively impact students' education. Melissa Matella, the associate vice president for labor relations, expressed relief at the court's decision, stating, "The strike would have negatively impacted students' learning and potentially stalled critical research projects."

The university had previously attempted to compel the unionized teaching assistants, tutors, researchers, and other academic employees to return to their duties, citing no-strike clauses in their collective bargaining agreements. Despite these efforts, the state Public Employment Relations Board had twice found that the university's claims did not meet the legal threshold required to block the strike.

Union's Stance and Ongoing Grievances

The union, representing approximately 48,000 graduate students and other academic workers, has accused the University of California of violating free speech policies and creating an unsafe work environment, particularly in response to demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war. Rebecca Gross, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student and union leader, stated, "The struggle is not over. It hasn't been definitively established yet that what we're doing here is illegal in any way."

The academic workers' grievances include the university's handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which they argue amounts to a unilateral change in free speech policies and a hostile work environment. On May 1, law enforcement in riot gear dispersed over a thousand protesters gathered on campus to support Palestine, warning that those who refused to leave would face arrest. The previous night, police had waited to intervene as counter-protesters attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, resulting in injuries.

Broader Context and Future Implications

Pro-Palestinian protests have gained momentum on campuses across the United States and Europe, with students demanding their universities cease business dealings with Israel or companies supporting its war efforts. The temporary restraining order came as the third attempt by the university to compel the academic workers to return to their duties, with tens of thousands of students preparing for finals at the end of the spring quarter.

The legal battle between the union and the university is ongoing, with the future of the strike and the academic year hanging in the balance. The state labor board has also expressed concerns about the jurisdiction of the Orange County Superior Court, which has authority over Irvine, the location of one of the walkouts. The board is already examining the issue of the no-strike clauses and questioned whether the court was the appropriate forum for the university to seek relief.

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