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University of California Workers Arrested for Writing “Living Wage Now” in Chalk

The arrests are “clearly an intimidation tactic,” one union member said.

The Geisel Library at University Of California, San Diego, in La Jolla, California.

Graduate students at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) were arrested at their homes last Thursday by campus police in the most recent escalation of the university’s aggressive anti-union campaign.

Jessica Ng, a postdoctoral scholar; William Schneider, a graduate student at UCSD; and a third union member who has chosen to be anonymous, were arrested for participating in recent protests against the university, which academic workers say has refused to implement union contracts that were ratified in December after a six-week strike across the University of California (UC) system.

“This is, in my opinion, very clearly part of a larger coordinated crackdown of union activities across the UC,” Schneider told KPBS News. “UC has systematically tried to renege on the contract they signed with UAW and the graduate student researchers union.”

The charges faced by Ng, Schneider, and the third union member stem from a protest that took place on May 30 outside the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Union members allegedly wrote slogans like “Living Wage Now” in washable markers and chalk on a concrete building. They have been charged with felony vandalism over $400 and conspiracy to commit a crime.

United Auto Workers 2865 (UAW 2865), which represents 36,000 UC academic workers, has called the charges “an attack on our fundamental democratic rights and the academic worker labor movement at large.”

Rafael Jaime, a graduate student worker in the English department at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and president of UAW 2865, wrote for In These Times that, “Ng, Schneider and their coworker have basically been told that chalking a building makes you a felon. It doesn’t matter how silly the idea is or how absurd their justification is for the arrests. UC’s point is apparently to signal that if workers continue to confront them with their broken promises, they can expect jail time, a steep fine, or both.”

In 2022, UC academic workers organized the longest education strike in U.S. history, mobilizing more than 35,000 workers in the fight for academic workers to receive a living wage — even in the face of widespread repression and retaliation from the university. Now, union organizers say that the university has not lived up to the requirements of the union contract.

Adam Cooper, an academic worker at UCSD, has alleged that workers in his department are each owed $4,000 due to arbitrary under-appointments. “We won’t stand for it. We deserve to be paid fairly and on time,” he said. “Lies like this deserve to be called out.”

On May 5, nearly 60 academic workers at UCSD peacefully disrupted an alumni event at the San Diego Museum of Modern Art to demand that the university pay them the wages agreed upon in their union contract. According to the UAW 2865, UCSD’s Office of Student Conduct falsely accused the protesting academic workers of physical assault and announced that the protesting students faced disciplinary hearings and possible expulsion.

“It is clearly an intimidation tactic,” Maya Gosztyla, a union organizer and doctoral candidate in biology at USCD, told La Jolla Light. “Being charged with assault even if you know for sure you didn’t commit any crimes, that’s a really scary charge to see, especially for someone like me who’s now four years into my Ph.D. and has about two years left.”

UAW 2865 has vowed to “fight the university until they reverse every single one of these false, baseless and threatening allegations.”

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