Judge Halts Hamas Sympathy Strike by Academic Workers at University of California

AP Photo/Richard Vogel

Orange County Superior Court Judge Randall J. Sherman, appointed by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, ordered a temporary halt to strikes by academic workers at several California state universities. The strikes were to protest the treatment of pro-Palestinian protesters who were rousted out of their encampments late last month.

The 48,000-member union, which includes classroom employees, tutors, readers, graduate student instructors, graduate student researchers, and teaching assistants, were angry at the way that pro-Hamas demonstrators were manhandled while anti-Hamas protesters at UCLA were treated far less sternly. 

The University says the work stoppages are political and violate the no-strike clause in the contract.

“From the beginning, we have stated this strike was illegal and a violation of our contracts’ mutually agreed upon no-strike clauses,” said Melissa Matella, associate vice president for Systemwide Labor Relations, in a statement. “We respect the advocacy and progressive action towards issues that matter to our community and our community’s right to engage in lawful free speech activities — activities that continue to occur across the system.”

Judge Sherman ordered the strikers to return to work until June 27, at which point the academic year would have ended.

“UC academic workers are facing down an attack on our whole movement,” union President Rafael Jaime said in a statement. “I want to make clear that this struggle is far from over. In the courtroom, the law is on our side and we’re prepared to keep defending our rights — and outside, 48,000 workers are ready for a long fight.”

Los Angeles Times:

The next hearing on the case was scheduled for June 27, which could effectively end the walkout that was approved by union membership through June 30. Sherman alluded to that fact at the end of a roughly hourlong hearing, telling both sides to notify the court if “the strike will expire on its own terms.”

Sherman’s decision does not resolve the long-term question of whether the strike is an illegal breach of “no strike” contract clauses, the allegation at the center of UC’s lawsuit filed against the union that represents 48,000 academic workers at 10 campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“We are extremely grateful for a pause in this strike so our students can complete their academic studies. The strike would have caused irreversible setbacks to students’ academic achievements and may have stalled critical research projects in the final quarter,” said Melissa Matella, UC associate vice president for systemwide labor relations, in a statement.

The rabidly pro-labor California Public Employment Relations Board twice denied the university's requests to halt the strikes due to breach of contract.  Indeed, Margo Feinberg, a Los Angeles-based lawyer representing the union, accused the university of "forum shopping."

“We’re in the wrong place,” Feinberg said. “No disrespect, your honor, but we should be before the Public Employment Relations Board.”

Sherman disagreed.

“I am not sure this is a labor dispute. Parties did not have a disagreement over the terms and conditions of employment,” he said.

The announced reason for the strike was the school's treatment of protesters. How that has anything to do with the political protest against school administration's is a mystery.

Tim Yeung, a Bay Area-based attorney who represented the university system, said the strikes were particularly damaging to students because of class cancelations and finals coming up at the end of June.

“We have grades due immediately after finals. Students are depending on those grades,” he said, The strike “may affect [students’] ability to move on to the next level. ... There is going to [be] harm to our students if this is not stopped.”

The ruling was handed down by a state court and the issue is going to be appealed to a federal court or perhaps a higher state court. The fight isn't over.


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