Just two months after 48,000 academic workers across all ten University of California campuses went on strike for better pay and benefits, educators at UCLA Lab School protested at the UCLA North Campus with similar demands on Wednesday, and plan to continue picketing on Thursday.
Employees at the exclusive laboratory school with 450 pre-K to Sixth Grade students are accusing the UC system of “unfair labor practices” involving contractual negotiations with the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), the union representing 7,000 librarians and non-Senate faculty working across the state.
“Turnout was strong,”Rebeca Heneise, a dual language teacher at the school, tells LAMag, estimating that roughly 60 showed up for the demonstration. “Parent support was high. We got food, kids stayed home, and some parents came to picket with us. We felt strong and supported and hopeful. We feel that the message is getting out there and the strike is garnering more support for us and our cause.”
The union believes that the contract negotiations have deviated from their normal path and that UC management is preventing them from bargaining on issues of evaluation, instructional support (including TAs), professional development funds, class size, and more.
“This strike is called to protest the University’s unfair labor practice,” UC-AFT said in a strike notification letter sent to the UC Office of the President earlier this month. “The charges detail the University’s unlawful interference with HEERA-protected [Higher Education Employee Relations Act] rights, including the University’s refusal to bargain over paid leave for family care and bonding and failure to participate in statutory impasse procedures in good faith, which are part of an ongoing pattern of bad faith bargaining by the University.”
Once the unit’s main contract was ratified in December 2021, they came back in February 2022 and notified UC management that they were ready to bargain, only to be met with silence. By August, the school heard back but was told management had hired a lawyer outside of the UC labor relations—something they had never done. What’s more, employees were told that management would only negotiate compensation and not any other parts of the contract.
“I think it’s really sad that it’s come to this,” Heinese says. “I never expected us to strike… I thought that we had a righteous cause and that the university would listen to us; I honestly never expected this.”
If you’re wondering what UC has done to cover the absence of educators on Wednesday and Thursday, the answer is perhaps revealing.
The school was scheduled to run normally, combining classes and using its newly employed “apprentice teachers”—instructors that have their teaching credentials but lack experience in front of a classroom.
According to Heneise, the new teachers were hired on an hourly contract and have no union of their own, making it harder for them to refuse to cross union picket lines. The school’s own teaching assistants, who operate similarly but are unionized, have more of a choice.
“We believe that it’s union-busting—creating this position of apprentice teacher is a total union busting thing,” Heneise said.
The striking educators are, of course, hoping that UC management feels the ongoing pressure and decides to negotiate, allowing things will return to normal.
UC-AFT filed unfair labor practice charges and the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) then filed a Complaint against the University alleging labor law violations. If UC management maintains its position, it will meet with UC-AFT for a formal PERB hearing and the process could be extended significantly.
“I feel like we’re fighting against a machine at UCLA,” Heneise said. “We want to make sure that our school continues to be a place that is joyful, collaborative, innovative, and an excellent place of learning—we just want the best for UCLA lab school.”