University of California sues striking academic workers for breach of contract

The University of California (UC) filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the United Auto Workers (UAW) union over its ongoing strikes at several campuses, alleging the striking academic workers are violating their contract.

The suit, filed in the Superior Court of California in Orange County, requests the state issue a temporary restraining order to UAW to stop the strike on UC campuses, arguing the school system will “suffer irreparable harm” to its operations and educational experience.

The UAW 4811, which represents 48,000 academic and graduate workers of the UC system, began its first strike at UC Santa Cruz on May 2, before later expanding to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of California, Davis last week, then to UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine this week. Approximately 31,000 union members are on strike.

The strike was authorized in protest of the UC system’s response to the pro-Palestinian protests on campus this spring, some of which led to the arrests and suspensions of several students and union members. UCLA experienced one of the more violent outbreaks amid the nationwide demonstrations this month when counterprotesters attacked pro-Palestinian activists for hours before police intervened.

UC’s suit accuses UAW 4811 of violating their contracts, which the school system claims have a strike clause.

“The blatant breach of the parties’ no-strike clauses by UAW will continue to cause irreversible harm to the University as it will disrupt the education of thousands of students in the form of canceled classes and delayed grades,” Melissa Matella, associate vice president for labor relations, said in a statement Wednesday.

“The breach of contract also endangers life-saving research in hundreds of laboratories across the University and will also cause the University substantial monetary damages,” she added.

Rafael Jaime, the president of UAW 4811, accused UC of trying to “shirk accountability” for its actions.

“As we have made clear from the beginning, we are standing up against UC’s violent crackdown on our right to free speech and peaceful protest embodied in our employment rights,” Jaime wrote in a statement to The Hill. “UC has caused our coworkers to be maced, beaten, arrested, and barred from work for peacefully demonstrating. We cannot accept UC’s serious unfair labor practices. We have to protect our fundamental employment rights.”

Union members have argued their free speech rights were violated when UC system leaders called in police to forcibly remove the pro-Palestinian encampments and are demanding “amnesty” for all academic employees, students, student groups, faculty and staff who face disciplinary action or arrest due to their protests.

Members are also calling for the protection of free speech and political expression on campus, along with the divestment from UC’s “known investments in weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and companies profiting from Israel’s war on Gaza,” the union stated online.

Striking members with the UAW 4811 have “reduced” to teach, conduct research and carry out job duties, the suit alleged, amid the last week of classes and ongoing final exams. UC claimed members carrying signs have blocked campus access points, parking and loading docks and “stormed and barricaded” themselves at buildings at UCLA.

Earlier this week, the school system said it hoped the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) would impose an injunction on the union to stop “this precedent-setting, unlawful action,” but PERB denied the request Monday.

—Updated June 6 at 12:47 p.m. ET

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