Workers are facing a massive crisis, and the choices made now will shape our future. How can we make our voices heard?
From the UC administration to the US federal government, the response of the powerful to the COVID-19 crisis has forced the most vulnerable to suffer the greatest burden. Public higher education in California faces $54.4 billion in budget cuts compared to 2019-2020. UC has threatened to raise students’ tuition even higher to offset budget shortfalls. Low-wage workers across the UC have been furloughed and laid-off. International students and workers, who pay the highest tuition and fees to attend the UC, have been targeted by ICE with discriminatory visa regulations, and have been told that they are ineligible to work if they cannot enter the US. The UC has pushed forward with plans for in-person research and instruction despite a lack of comprehensive health and safety protocol.
What will a just recovery look like?
As the COVID-19 public health crisis and the economic recession threaten to devastate our communities, workers are banding together to fight back. While corporate interests and corrupt politicians use the crisis as an opportunity to shore up their wealth and power, workers and students are fighting for a just recovery that truly serves the people: a fight for the public.
Resisting austerity and improving the lives of working people across California will take fighting on the following fronts:
1. Fighting for public education:
- No budget cuts or salary freezes
- No layoffs
- No tuition hikes
- No permanent expansion of online education
Funding for public higher education in California has dropped dramatically over the past four decades, making the University of California more expensive and less accessible to students across the state. As a percentage of the California state budget, higher education funding fell from 18% in 1976-1977 to 12% in 2016-2017. This has led to a decline in state funding per student from $23,000 to only $8,000. In order to make up for losses in public funding, the UC has turned to tuition increases, pushing the costs of the university onto students and their families. In 1979-1980, tuition cost at the UC was $2,200, adjusted for inflation; by 2018-2019, tuition had skyrocketed to $14,400. Because of radically diminishing state funding, the UC has become more difficult for poor and working class students to attend without being forced into massive student debt.
Facing sudden budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of California plans to cut public funding for the UC once again, which would only further the privatization and inaccessibility of the university system. The governor’s office has proposed cutting state funding for the UC by $258.4 million in this year’s budget. The effects of such drastic budget cuts may be pushed onto workers, leading to staffing cuts, pay freezes, furloughs, and layoffs. AFSCME 3299 and the UC Union Coalition have proposed an alternative plan, demonstrating that by leveraging the UC’s financial assets, the university system can avoid austerity measures and state-imposed budget cuts. Austerity is a policy choice; the UC can and must manage its financial assets to maintain full employment while pushing for greater, not lessened, funding from the state.
2. Building an equitable society:
- Income replacement and unemployment benefits for pandemic-affected workers
- Living wages, cost-of-living adjustments, and strong collective bargaining rights
- Healthcare for all
- Paid medical leave for all
- Affordable housing for all: read about the Rental Affordability Act ballot initiative here!
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the United States’ exceptional lack of social services and protections for the working class. Broad lack of access to healthcare, housing security, paid leave, and living wages for working, unemployed, and poor people has caused a public health crisis to balloon into a social catastrophe. While UAW 2865 continues to fight for better healthcare protections and a cost-of-living adjustment for all academic academic student workers, more must be done by the state and federal government to provide healthcare and housing for all, not just workers with strong unions.
UAW 2865 members across California are involved in the fight for single payer healthcare and tenant protections at the UC and beyond. As a member of the Housing Now! California coalition, UAW 2865 helped pass legislation in 2019 protecting tenants from price gouging and instituting “just cause” protections from evictions. The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated existing housing insecurity, leaving already-precarious tenants on the verge of eviction. Amidst soaring unemployment, 32% of U.S. households missed July rent or mortgage payments. Alongside unions and community organizations across California, UAW 2865 members are fighting to halt evictions and expand rent control by supporting AB 1346 in the legislature and Proposition 21 at the ballot box.
3. Divesting from billionaires, police, and prisons:
- Tax corporations and the ultra-wealthy
- Shift money away from police and prison budgets toward services that help, not harm
- Reinvest in working class communities: read about the Schools and Communities First ballot initiative here!
In 1978, Proposition 13 devastated California’s public education system and other publicly-funded services by stabilizing state property taxes. This law has left companies like Disney, Chevron, Intel, and IBM with tax assessments based on 1975 land values, depleting state tax revenue coming from these billion-dollar corporations. The passage of Proposition 13 jumpstarted California’s decades-long divestment from public goods like education, infrastructure, and health services. Between 1978 and 2018, school expenditures-per-pupil in California dropped from 14th to 39th in the nation.
As public funding for education has steadily declined, state budget allocations to prisons and policing have soared. In 1970-1971, 2.8% of the state budget went to fund the Department of Corrections––$267 million adjusted for inflation. By contrast, the 2018-2019 budget allocated 9%––$12 billion––to fund corrections. Over the past 50 years, depleted tax revenues and skyrocketing funding for incarceration have left California public schools and other public services without the funding they require and deserve.
To reverse this trend, it will take passing progressive tax measures that make billionaires and corporations pay their fair share, divesting from policing and prisons in California, and reinvesting in public goods like education and other crucial social services. UAW 2865 members are fighting to pass Proposition 15 this November to reform Prop 13, make commercial real estate owners pay their fair share in taxes, and reinvest in our communities.
4. Defending international and immigrant workers:
- No travel bans, visa restrictions, or anti-immigrant measures
- No kicking out international student-workers
- No tuition discrimination against international student-workers: end Non-Resident Supplemental Tuition (NRST) at the UC
The Trump administration has used the COVID-19 crisis to ramp up xenophobic rhetroric and exlusionary policies that target immigrant and international students and workers. A proclamation issued by the administration seeks to bar Chinese graduate students from obtaining visas to study and conduct research in the United States. Legislation proposed by Republican congressional representatives would ban Chinese international students from graduate study in STEM fields in the U.S. On June 22, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) issued a directive requiring international students to attend classes in person at U.S. universities or face deportation. UAW 2865 members, alongside academic workers across the country, engaged in collective action, filed lawsuits, and successfully forced the Trump administration to rescind the restriction.
Discriminatory policies at the UC remain in place, forcing international students to pay higher tuition and preventing some academic workers living outside of the U.S. during the pandemic from being hired to work. UAW 2865 has filed an unfair labor practice charge over UC Berkeley’s refusal to hire students living abroad for teaching positions, a policy that will force graduate students to pay tuition and fees out-of-pocket. UAW 2865 members continue to organize to rescind the UC’s Non-Resident Student Tuition, which discriminates against students based on their country of origin by forcing international student workers to pay higher tuition and fees than U.S. residents. Join the International Students Committee to get involved!
5. Ending systemic racism:
- Defund and disarm UC police
- Keep our public schools police-free
- Reinstitute affirmative action in higher education admissions: read about the Opportunity for All ballot initiative here!
The passage of Proposition 209 in 1996 reversed decades of gains for communities of color in higher education. By banning California public universities from considering race and ethnicity in admissions, Prop 209 caused the admissions rates of Black students at UC Berkeley to fall from 50% in 1997 to 31% in 1998. By 2015, the admission rate for Black students at UC Berkeley had dropped even further to 13%. While Latinx students compose a majority of graduating high school seniors in California, just 16% of UC Berkeley undergraduates are Latinx. Twenty five years after the passage of Prop 209, seven of the UC schools are among the nine least accessible public universities and colleges for Black and Latinx students. (link)
The effects of the ban on affirmative action in California can be seen well beyond college admissions. Faculty recruitment among people of color has not matched the changing demographic of California, and university staff of color are underrepresented in higher-level positions. In the decades since Prop 209 was passed, the proportion of Latinx workers employed by the state has dropped while minority and women owned businesses have lost nearly $1 Billion annually in public contracts. California’s economy has experienced massive growth since 1996, yet people of color have been systematically excluded from our state’s prosperity.
As one of the biggest drivers for social mobility, public universities are a key site of struggle against systemic racism. To fight against the system that makes the UC inaccessible to students of color, UAW 2865 members are organizing to pass Proposition 16, which would reinstate affirmative action in California’s public universities. This is a critical first step toward eliminating structural inequality and building a more just and equitable California that truly provides opportunity for all.