Cal State professors begin largest US strike

Thousands of professors and lecturers across the California State University system walked off the job Monday to demand higher compensation in the largest university faculty strike in U.S. history, which was expected to cancel most classes early in the academic term.

The California Teachers Association, which represents 29,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and interns, began a five-day strike that will affect nearly 460,000 students who attend the nation's largest four-year public university system. Walkouts began at all 23 CSU campuses.

The strike reflects two national trends in labor, said Ken Jacobs, co-president of the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education: an increase in large-scale strikes by Hollywood actors and writers and members. The United Automobile Workers staged last year, especially with an increase in walkouts.

Los Angeles school workers staged a major walkout last March, and Oakland educators went on strike for nearly two weeks in May. In December 2022, graduate student workers and researchers at the state's other four-year university system, the University of California system, walked off the job for nearly six weeks to protest low wages.

Although 9,000 full-time faculty members, graduate staff, graduate assistants and advisors went on strike at Rutgers University last April, university faculty rarely go on strike.

Mr. Jacobs said the unrest among faculty reflects universities' reliance on part-time instructors and others who earn very low starting salaries. Workers in industries grappling with wages that haven't kept pace with high inflation, as well as housing costs and other living expenses, particularly in California, where a busy period of walkouts in 2023 has been dubbed a “hot labor summer.”

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“Because Cal State is the largest university system in the country, this is a very significant strike,” said Mr. Jacobs said. “We're starting this year the same as last year.”

CSU leaders and the faculty union have been negotiating since May, when the union announced earlier this month that it planned to hold a five-day strike after university officials offered a 5 percent raise. The union is demanding a 12 percent wage hike.

University leaders said the system already spends 75 percent of its operating budget on employee compensation, and could not increase salaries to that level. The California State University Board of Trustees approved it last year 6 percent annual tuition fee increases For more than five years, system officials have said they can't balance their budget otherwise.

“If we agree to the increases these unions are asking for, we will have to make drastic cuts to programs,” Leora Friedman, the university system's vice chancellor for human resources, said at a news conference Friday. “We will have to lay off staff – it will affect our academic work.” He said the organization recently agreed to a 5 percent wage increase with six other unions.

The union wants to raise the base salary for full-time employees from $54,360 to $64,360, and is seeking other changes, including limits on class sizes and an expansion of paid parental leave.

“That's where we stand,” said union president Charles Toombs. “We know that a system-wide strike at CSU would be historic.”

Organization spokeswoman Hazel Kelly said all campuses will remain open during the strike and university leaders will try to limit disruption to students.

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Individual campuses advised students to contact their professors to find out if classes will be held this week. Some CSU schools were scheduled to resume instruction on Monday, others last week, and San Francisco State University will resume on Jan. 29.

Ms. Kelly said it is possible that some faculty members who are not participating in the strike will hold classes. In October, 95 percent of union members in a strike authorization vote supported a walkout.

Union members staged one-day walkouts in early December at the computer's four largest campuses: Cal Poly Pomona, San Francisco State, Cal State Los Angeles and Sacramento State.

“We are committed to fair compensation to employees, but we must be equally committed to the long-term stability and success of CSU, which means we must be fiscally prudent,” said California State University Chancellor Mildred Garcia. Friday press conference. “We have to work within our financial realities.”

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