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Pro-Palestinian protests continue at the University of California

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The pro-Palestinian and anti-Gaza war student activism at University of California campuses has spread to include academic workers. Last week, UC Santa Cruz graduate students who work in roles that include teaching assistants and researchers walked off the job. It was the first in a series of strikes launched by the union that represents academic workers in the UC system. Today, walkouts are expected at UCLA and UC Davis near Sacramento. UC officials contend the labor action is illegal. Union members argue UC officials violated their rights by calling in police to dismantle student protest encampments. I spoke with Mikhail Zinshteyn, who's covering this story for CalMatters. And he says the union is responding to the fact that some of its members were arrested and face disciplinary action.

MIKHAIL ZINSHTEYN: In the eyes of the union, that is a labor violation. That is something to strike over. There are other complaints that the union has. They allege that the university sort of introduced new behavioral and disciplinary rules without conferring with the union first. So, you know, violating a labor practice. So the strike is in many ways consistent with the kind of student protest and activism and labor protest that we've been seeing for months now in response to the war in Gaza.

FADEL: And how is the university responding to the strike.

ZINSHTEYN: Through legal channels. UC sought an injunction to stop the strike. The university is saying that this strike is illegal. And they say that because the contract said no strike provisions, and here the union is going on strike.

FADEL: So let's talk about what this actually looks like. I mean, the strike started at this one campus, but this is a union that represents employees at 10 University of California campuses and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Is the union planning for these strikes to spread to other campuses?

ZINSHTEYN: This morning we will see UCLA and UC Davis join the strike. And that's a huge escalation of the number of workers, including TA's, who regularly teach undergraduates. This is a huge escalation because at UC Santa Cruz, we had roughly 2,000 academic workers joining the strike. Between the two campuses, UCLA and Davis, that's more than 12,000 academic workers. Last Thursday, when the UCLA workers were announcing that they were going to go on strike, they had a protest. And their protest converged with a student pro-Palestinian protest. So one thing that I think is apparent is if anyone thought that the protest was going away after all the arrests two or three weeks ago, that's not true.

FADEL: What's the end goal here? What is the union demanding?

ZINSHTEYN: The union wants amnesty for the individuals who were arrested and/or disciplined by their university campus. It's hard to see how you meet in the middle here over whether someone is disciplined or not, but we'll see.

FADEL: Mikhail Zinshteyn is a higher education reporter for CalMatters, and he's been covering these strikes. Thank you so much for joining us.

ZINSHTEYN: Thank you so much for asking me to join you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "DIVISION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.