On Feb. 18, United Auto Workers 2865, UAW 5810, Student Researchers United/UAW, Teamsters 2010, and the American Federation of Teachers rallied at the University of California Merced demanding wages be raised and rents be lowered for academic workers. The 17,000 members of SRU/UAW won recognition in December 2021 after months of struggle and are now fighting for a fair union contract.
UC students and workers across the state held similar rallies as part of a California-wide movement at UC campuses demanding housing justice. The movement includes UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Los Angeles, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis and UC Merced. Academic workers are taking collective action to strengthen their hand at the bargaining table.
The demonstrators expressed three demands:
- The UC to eliminate rent burden so that no academic worker pays more than 30% of their
income in housing.
- The UC provide all academic workers and postdocs with affordable and quality housing
near work and housing subsidies appropriate to the local cost of living, in order to reduce
climate impacts, promote environmental justice, improve diversity at UC, and protect
affordability and housing security in the broader community.
- The UC guarantee university housing for academic workers and postdocs who face
discriminatory housing practices.
At the rally Anh Diep, an organizer for UAW told the crowd: “We are here to demand the UC take action amidst the Californian housing crisis and support workers by raising our wages so we can be lifted out of rent burden. I think there is a major misconception that UCM is very ‘cheap’ because of the relative price differences between here and other places like the Bay Area, but we are already seeing that difference rapidly change.”
Diep continued, “I’ve lived in Merced for 10 years now and I remember just a few years ago, apartments that used to be $950 per month for a one bedroom-one bath are going for as high as $1400 per month now. That’s a huge increase in such a short amount of time and highly unsustainable. The UC needs to step up and begin working with the cities they inhabit to ensure there is fair, affordable housing for everyone.”
Organizers argue raising wages for student workers will help tackle the rent burden. Current UC Merced chancellor Dr. Juan Sanchez Munoz has an annual salary of $521,896 effective March 2022. This is an increase from his current salary $437,750. A $84,000 raise.
In 2018, the Merced County Department of Public Health reported that 53.9% of Merced City residents are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent; 25.1% are severely rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 50% of their income on rent.
Despite UC housing data detailing the crisis, at the start of the August 2021 semester, hundreds of UC Merced students were without housing. This led to UC Merced converting the two-person dorm rooms into three-person dorm rooms. UC housed many students in hotel rooms pending completion of a 500-unit complex.
Today, academic workers continue to demand to end rent burden. Merced student worker Zachary Petrek shared, “Collective action is important. Headspace is important. So, if you are burdened by things not related to your job like housing, then it will be difficult to be successful in grad school. Rent has been rising in Merced since I arrived in 2016. It is important that we stay ahead of the curve and
don’t get priced out of our housing.”
Featured image: Demonstrators pose on grass with signs and tents. Liberation photo