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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

University of California agrees to drop charges against student union organizers in San Diego

After months of protests and negotiations, the University of California agreed drop threats to charge student union organizers with felony vandalism for writing union slogans on campus property.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — The University of California on Tuesday dropped misconduct charges against 59 students involved in union protests and promised not to pursue felony charges against three students accused of writing "living wage now" on a campus building during a demonstration in May.

Academic workers, graduate students, researchers, student employees who work in academic support roles like teachers’ assistants, tutors and graders at University of California campuses across the state went on the largest education strike in U.S. history late last year. Represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW), the students won new contracts that were supposed to raise their wages by 80% and double the length of parental leave, among other things. But the union contends that the university hasn’t abided by the contracts and is actively trying to circumvent them.

Protesters at the University of California-San Diego walked onto the stage of an alumni ceremony event at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in May. The university claimed the activists bumped into the university's chancellor, Pradeep Khosla, but students said there was no physical contact, and that they only stood by Khosla and spoke into a microphone attached to a podium.

In June, the university sent those involved in that action letters alleging violations of student misconduct rules that could lead to expulsion.

Then, on June 29, UCDS police arrested three students at their homes. They were held in county jail and told they would face charges of felony vandalism and conspiracy to commit a crime after the university claimed they wrote “living wage now” on a campus building during a protest in May. The UAW says the message was written in chalk.

In July, the students were scheduled to be arraigned in a downtown San Diego court, but the university ended up not filing charges and said that an investigation was still ongoing.   

According to a joint press release put out reportedly by both the union and the University of California, the union agreed to accept accountability for the protest, the vandalism and violating school policy in exchange for the university not pursuing misconduct charges or legal action against the students.   

“The UAW and university recognize and agree that protest activities must at all times be peaceful and consistent with standards for appropriate labor actions, including applicable laws and policies against vandalism and damaging university property and applicable laws and policies against the disruption of university events,” the joint press release states. “The UAW and the university support lawful First Amendment and protected labor activities which are consistent with reasonable rules, regulations, and standards.” the joint press release states.

But Griffin Johnson, a UAW-UC spokesperson, said that the statement's language about the union accepting responsibility for the protests, vandalism, and violating school policy was not in fact agreed upon by the union.

"This is not in our joint statement with UC. This language was added later by UC without involvement from our unions," Johnson wrote in an email.

UC San Diego’s interest, which the press release says the UAW agreed with, has been in protecting public property, the “continuity” of the university’s operations, and accountability for “the underlying behavior,” the press releases adds.

“Over the past months, UC management has resorted to unlawful retaliation in a desperate attempt to chill our union’s organizing and avoid their obligation to honor our contracts,” said Udayon Tandon, UAW 2865’s unit chair at UC San Diego, in another press release sent to Courthouse News. “In response, hundreds of us have traveled across California to support each other at arraignment hearings, to picket outside Regents meetings, and to directly confront the Regents face to face. Today, those efforts paid off, and we clearly demonstrated that these unlawful attempts to silence workers will not work now or in the future.”

“Since UAW members’ unprecedented strike at the University of California last fall, management has been doing its best to undo the historic gains workers have won,” said UAW President Shawn Fain in the same press release. “What they’re trying to do is break workers’ unity and solidarity. Today, UAW members defeated that attempt. This is yet another major win in the fight for workers’ rights at UC, and our international union has these members’ backs.”

Maya Gosztyla, one of the UCSD students who faced misconduct charges, said she’s grateful to people who participated in the union’s rally and pressured the university to drop the charges.

"This is a major victory for not just for us but for all UAW academic workers at UC. Management's ham-fisted attempt to chill our organizing by retaliating against us has completely backfired on them. By forcing them to drop the charges, we've affirmed our right to collective action and shown our employer that we won't stand for unjust retaliation," she wrote in an email.

Categories / Civil Rights, Education, Regional

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