Union must end strikes on the University of California campus (1)

The union representing 48,000 student workers at the University of California must end a series of rolling strikes at multiple campuses over the university's handling of pro-Palestinian protests after a state judge ordered the strikes to cease.

The school system's lawyers showed “good reasons” for the court to issue a preliminary injunction against United Auto Workers Local 4811, Judge Randall J. Sherman The California Supreme Court in Orange County issued its ruling on Friday.

The union and its affiliates are not allowed to strike as long as the no-strike clauses in the collective bargaining agreements are in effect and until the court holds a hearing to explain the reasons, Sherman wrote.

UAW Local 4811 is one of several unions representing academic staff nationwide that have pushed universities to divest from companies with ties to the Israeli government and demanded accountability for their handling of protests related to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Unions at Brown University, the University of Southern California and Harvard University have filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees labor issues in the private sector.

The UC filed its lawsuit on Monday, claiming that UAW Local 4811 violated its contract with the school system by calling tens of thousands of workers on strike, delaying the release of year-end grades, blocking facilities and jeopardizing “life-saving research in hundreds of laboratories.”

California's Public Employees Relations Board earlier this week rejected the UC's request to end the strikes. The union said the UC violated the state's labor law by calling police to break up the encampments and changing work rules without negotiations because of the protests.

“We are very grateful for the pause in this strike so our students can complete their degrees. The strike would have caused irreversible setbacks in students' academic achievement and potentially halted important research projects in the final quarter,” Melissa Matella, UC's assistant vice president for systemwide labor relations, said in a statement.

“We have stated from the beginning that this strike is illegal and a violation of the no-strike clauses agreed in our contracts,” she said.

Legality of the strike unclear

Sherman's temporary injunction issued Friday does not address whether the strike is illegal under state law.

Labor market observers say the final decision on the legality of the strike will depend on whether the UC broke the law by calling in police to disperse pro-Palestinian camps and whether the university made significant changes to labor rules without negotiations.

Trade unions can strike in response to unfair labour practices by employers, even if the parties have a no-strike clause in an existing collective agreement.

“The injunction does not mean that the strike has been declared 'illegal.' Decades of labor law giving unions the right to strike against serious unfair labor practices is on our side,” the union said in a statement on Friday.

UAW Local 4811 also pointed out that PERB filed its own motion in this case to assert that the board was the appropriate authority to make decisions about California labor law, but that Sherman refused to consider the motion at the time.

“It is almost unheard of for public employers to attempt to circumvent PERB's jurisdiction when faced with an unfavorable decision,” the union said. “Regardless of the university's actions, PERB will retain jurisdiction and bring the unfair labor practices to court.”

The case is Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. United Auto Workers Local 4811, Cal. Excellent. Ct., No. 30-2024-01403666-CU-MC-CXC, 07.06.24.