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California faculty at largest US university system launch strike for better pay

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Faculty at California State University, the largest public university system in the U.S.
Members of the California Faculty Association rally and picket during a strike at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Pomona, Calif. The strike follows seven months of contract bargaining for increased wages. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Faculty at California State University, the largest public university system in the U.S., kicked off a series of one-day strikes starting Monday across four campuses to demand higher pay and more parental leave for thousands of professors, librarians, coaches and other workers.

Hundreds of faculty members picketed at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, also known as Cal Poly Pomona, to launch the latest push by the California Faculty Association to fight for better pay and benefits for the roughly 29,000 workers the union represents across the university system's 23 campuses.

The union is seeking a 12% salary raise and an increase in parental leave from six weeks to a full semester. They also want more manageable workloads for faculty, better access to breastfeeding stations and more gender-inclusive restrooms.

“What we're doing is in the spirit of maintaining the integrity of what the public education system should be for,” said Maria Gisela Sanchez, a counselor at Cal Poly Pomona who picketed Monday. “Public education belongs to all of us.”

The union also planned strikes this week at San Francisco State University; California State University, Los Angeles; and California State University, Sacramento.

The California State University chancellor’s office says the pay increase the union is seeking would cost the system $380 million in new recurring spending. That would be $150 million more than increased funding for the system by the state for the 2023-24 year, the office said.

Leora Freedman, the vice chancellor for human resources, said in a statement that the university system aims to pay its workers fairly and provide competitive benefits.

“We recognize the need to increase compensation and are committed to doing so, but our financial commitments must be fiscally sustainable,” Freedman said.

She said the chancellor’s office respects workers’ right to strike and would prepare to minimize disruptions on campuses.

Cal Poly Pomona leadership said the campus would remain open and that some faculty would still hold classes. Instructors participating in the strike notified students about cancellations and gave them instructions to prepare for the next class.

Kate Ozment, an English assistant professor and assembly delegate for the union's Cal Poly Pomona chapter, said the only reason she could afford to take her job at the university after earning $18,000 annually as a graduate student in Texas was because she is married.

“That's what we're seeing is that people who are two-income households or have generational wealth are the ones who can afford to take these jobs,” she said. “That's not actually what the CSU is supposed to be about.”

On top of salary concerns, Ozment said without an increase in parental leave, she can't afford to have a child. Only having six weeks of parental leave as opposed to a full semester disrupts classes when professors have expertise in niche topics in which other teachers do not, she said.

Beyond the faculty union, other California State University workers are fighting for better pay and bargaining rights. The Teamsters Local 2010 union, which represents plumbers, electricians and maintenance workers employed by the university system, held a one-day strike last month to fight for better pay. In October, student workers across the university system's campuses became eligible to vote to form a union.

Jason Rabinowitz, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 2010, which plans to strike in support of the faculty union, said skilled workers have been paid far less than workers in similar roles at University of California campuses.

“Teamsters will continue to stand together and to stand with our fellow Unions, until CSU treats our members, faculty, and all workers at CSU with the fairness we deserve,” Rabinowitz said in a statement.

The strike comes during a big year for labor, one in which health care professionals, Hollywood actors and writers, and auto workers picketed for better pay and working conditions. It's all amid new California laws granting workers more paid sick leave, as well as increased wages for health care and fast food workers.

Last year, teaching assistants and graduate student workers at the University of California went on strike for a month, disrupting classes as the fall semester came to a close.


Sophie Austin is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: @sophieadanna

Sophie Austin, The Associated Press