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Know Your Rights: UAW Strike Guidance


6.9.2024 Updates

On Friday, June 7 Orange County Superior Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against UAW Local 4811 in response to the breach of contract lawsuit the university filed last week. The TRO declares that UAW is “restrained from all strike activities” until the June 27 hearing on the case. UC-AFT strongly condemns this decision by the UC’s administration. Instead of negotiating in good faith with their workers, UCOP and the regents decided to circumvent PERB, which has twice rebutted similar attempts to stop the strike, and seek out a friendly court instead. Their decision undermines the collective bargaining process and the rights of all public employees in the state of CA. The TRO does not mean the strike is "illegal" -- PERB will ultimately decide that -- indeed the court in question did not consider the arguments of the case or issue a specific findings of fact, but instead filed a unilateral TRO that undermines PERB’s authority.

Such efforts by employers to use the courts to repress labor activism have a long history in CA. Indeed, prior legislation amended CA’s labor code to limit these kinds of orders and injunctions, setting a precedent which has been upheld in the courts. The legislation prohibits TROs when the employer has "failed to make every reasonable effort to settle that dispute" -- which UC has not done. The judge in this case has set a dangerous precedent that threatens the rights of all public sector employees in the state of California.

UC’s decision to go to court is a continuation of a trend we’ve seen since the encampments first went up – UC Office of the President and Regents issuing unilateral dictums that often contradict their own policies and practices and undermine the autonomy of campus administrators. At a moment like this, UCOP and the regents should be renewing their commitment to shared governance and democratic decision-making on our campuses. Instead, they have circumvented those processes entirely and undermined the governance of labor law in our state.

As of now, UC has not made it clear how they intend to enforce this TRO or what it will mean for our UC community. Beyond their commitment to continue organizing around their ULPs, our colleagues in UAW have not issued a public statement about how they will respond to the TRO. UC-AFT will update our members as we have more information.

UC-AFT maintains that our collective bargaining agreement ensures that we do not have to do the work of any other UC employee, whether they are on strike or not. No matter who you are and what your appointment is, you have the right to refuse additional work. We want to hear from UC-AFT members who have been asked or directed to do the work of striking UAW workers, and those who have been directed to modify their courses because of the strike, resulting in additional work. If you have, please complete this form.

UAW 2024 Strike Impacts FAQ

1. Q: Does the temporary restraining order mean the strike is illegal?

A: No. Ultimately, the legality of the strike will be decided by PERB. Nor has the court that issued this TRO yet ruled on the merits of the case. While UCOP has declared this a victory in “halting” what they believe to be an “illegal systemwide strike,” that determination still has not been made by either PERB or the courts.

2. Q: Does the temporary restraining order mean that my TA will start grading again this week?

A: We don’t know. It is up to the members of UAW to decide how they will (or will not) respond to this TRO. It is likely the University will continue to message that they believe the TRO indicates the strike is illegal and to imply that striking UAW 4811 workers are expected to return to work. They will likely ask that teaching faculty participate in their efforts to monitor and/or retaliate against academic workers who continue to withhold their labor. Don’t be fooled - consult #9 below.

You may be told by TAs, ASEs, and GSRs that they will continue to strike or you may hear nothing from them at all. Because UCOP has not made it clear how they will enforce this ruling, there remains a lot of uncertainty about what will happen in the coming days. UC-AFT will continue to update our members as soon as we can.

3. Q: Does the temporary restraining order mean that I have to submit grades?

A: The TRO does not change our rights and responsibilities. If you have grades to submit because your course does not rely on TAs to produce them, you should submit them to avoid discipline. If TAs have not provided grades for your course due to the strike and/or you don’t have complete grades because your TAs have not been available to grade assignments or exams, you should notify your supervisor or department chair that you will not be able to submit grades because you do not have them (use the template below in #6). UC-AFT maintains that you can refuse to do struck work, as well as additional work as a result of the strike. Likewise if you had not been submitting timesheets for your TA before the strike began, you should not be required to do so now.

4. Q: Does the TRO change my right to support UAW workers?

A: No. The TRO does not change our rights to support and/or engage in any action or demonstration that does not conflict with our own duties and responsibilities. We do not know what campus actions may happen or continue on our campuses, nor how UC will respond. But UC-AFT members have the right to show support and solidarity in any way that does not violate the no-strikes language in our collective bargaining agreements.

5. Q: If my TA strikes, do I have to perform their work?

A: If your TA (or GSR) goes on strike, you have the right to refuse to perform struck work, and UC-AFT encourages and supports your choice to do so. You can also refuse to report the activities of your TAs. Your obligation to submit grades as the instructor of record does not extend to an obligation or responsibility to perform struck work in order to submit grades. If you are asked to do struck work, you can refuse. If you are directed to do it after refusing, contact UC-AFT immediately so that we can file a charge. Struck work may include:

  • Holding discussion sections usually assigned to your TAs
  • Additional office hours to compensate for those usually held by TAs
  • Holding review sessions that would have been held by TAs
  • Performing grading that is usually done by your TAs
  • Taking on tasks or assignments that would have been done by GSRs, post-docs, or ARs

One step worth taking to protect yourself is to write to your Department Chair clearly articulating what you believe your contractually-defined work duties consist of, including your term of service if you are employed on a by-term/by-semester basis. You may use the following language to inform your department you are asserting your rights under HEERA with respect to refusing to do struck work:

Dear Chair,

I’m submitting this statement on the guidance of my union, UC-AFT. I have cc’d my union rep to ensure that this communication is documented, that my rights are upheld and my responsibilities as faculty are met. I understand that the Unit 18 contract prohibits sympathy strikes, and that I am required to continue to perform my regularly assigned job duties during the UAW strike. However, I have not waived my basic right to support another union by refusing to perform struck work, which is protected under HEERA Section 3565. For my Chemistry 101 course, TAs are assigned to teach sections and grade weekly student work, two papers, and a final exam. I will not teach sections or tabulate grades for student work that would have been graded by TAs. In addition, I cannot make evaluations of student work by criteria directly reflective of course performance without the labor and product of my TAs/Readers. As described in my contract, my term of service for the quarter ends June 30. To do work past this date and/or take on this additional duties would be a violation of my academic responsibility obligations under Article 3 of the Unit 18 MOU, as well as a violation of my academic freedom guaranteed by Article 2 of the MOU and APM 010.

6. Q: Can I refuse to complete and/or submit my course grades?

A: If you have grades to submit because your course does not rely on TAs to produce them, you should submit them to avoid discipline. If TAs have not provided grades for your course due to the strike and/or you don’t have complete grades because your TAs have not been available to grade assignments or exams, you should notify your supervisor or department chair that you will not be able to submit grades because you do not have them.

We know from experience in the last UAW strike that campus administrators pressured many UC-AFT members to complete grades, and it is very likely that they will exert pressure on UC-AFT members again if the strike lasts through the academic term. We also know that some supporters of the strike encouraged grade withholding as an expression of solidarity, adding to the pressure members endured during the strike. These decisions can be agonizing for vulnerable and contingently-employed faculty members. We advise you to contact us with your details of your own situation if you need support and talk to your colleagues about their experiences. You can find your campus rep on our website – or, if you are directed to do additional work, complete this form and share your situation so that UC-AFT can build a case for an additional ULP charge.

7. Q: Should I cancel TA-led discussion sections or labs?

A: No. Instructors should leave it to their TAs to do any communication with students about what they are doing (or not doing) regarding their own participation in the strike. If your students ask about what the TAs are doing, you can (if you so choose) tell them that you support your TAs rights to participate in a labor action but the choice to participate will be left up to them.

8. Q: What do I do if I have student papers/ exams that were completed before the start of the strike that still need to be graded but my TA(s) are on strike?

A: Do not grade them. A strike is meant to show the work that is not being done. If TAs were assigned to this course and would have graded the papers if not but for the strike, you should notify your department that TA work is piling up and papers are going ungraded.

9. Q: Am I my TA’s “supervisor”? What should I do if my department chair or another administrator tells me I’m a supervisor and directs me to act like a supervisor?

A: No. No matter what you are told by department chairs and other administrators, you are not your TA’s supervisor, even if you select the TAs you work with, and even if you direct or coordinate the work they do in your course. Within the context of a strike, “supervisor” has a specific legal meaning that is defined in state labor law (HEERA). Supervisors have the power to sign appointment letters and conduct formal disciplinary proceedings for TAs. If you don’t do these things, you’re not a supervisor.

If your chair or the university insists that you are a supervisor of TA(s), send them the following email:

Dear Chair, I am responding to your request that I act as a supervisor in my [Economics 101] class for the period that UAW 4811 workers are on strike. While I do work with TAs who lead discussion sections for my undergraduate students in this class, I am represented by UC-AFT and am not a legal supervisor as defined by HEERA. I am not responsible for performing additional work that my striking TAs are not doing. I will not be present in discussion sections that striking TAs are usually responsible for leading, nor will I submit final grades if my TAs have not provided the assessments necessary for me to do so ethically. etc.

If administrators continue to instruct you to act as a supervisor, contact UC-AFT immediately.

10. Q: What can I do to show support for UAW workers on strike?

A: If and when UAW workers strike at your campus, you are free to join their picket and/or actions while you are not teaching or performing your assigned work. You have both first amendment rights under the Constitution as well as rights under our collective bargaining agreements that protect your freedom of expression. Some actions you can take include:

  • coordinating visits to the picket line and/or shows of support with other members of your local chapter
  • bringing food to the picket line
  • wearing your union t-shirt or buttons in solidarity
  • express your support on social media
  • not attending or participating in other campus activities (seminars, talks, department meetings, etc.) or otherwise unnecessarily crossing picket lines.

11. Q: Can I say no to my supervisor if they assign me more work to complete the quarter/semester?

A: Yes. If your department or library suggests that you voluntarily do more work than usual because colleagues are on strike, you may decline. If you are directed by a supervisor to perform additional work that is not part of your normal assignment, you should ask to have the new assignment detailed in writing, and you should inform your supervisor of their obligation to mitigate the increase in work. Formal documentation of the new assignment from the chair or dean should be in the form of an amended appointment letter including relevant details of the new assignment and compensation. You may refuse a new or supplemental assignment. If you are directed to do additional work and/or are given a supplemental assignment for new or additional work, complete this form and get in touch with your chapter’s field representative immediately about the workload increase so that UC-AFT can file a charge.

12. Q: Do I have to submit timesheets for my TA/GSI?

A: Maybe. If you already are or have been responsible for submitting time sheets for a TA or GSI, then you should continue to do so. But if you have never been asked to report your TA’s time before and are directed to do so during or after the strike, let your direct supervisor or chair know that this has never been part of your job duties and that this new requirement to certify UAW members’ attendance violates HEERA. Copy your UC-AFT staff or chapter chair, and/or let us know immediately.

13. Q: Can I put my class online and/ or make it asynchronous for the rest of the quarter/semester?

A: Maybe. Campuses have varying published policies about changing the modality of a class from in-person to zoom (synchronous and/or asynchronous). You should check with campus policy before making this change.

14. Q: Can I delete or remove assignments or requirements from my course?

A: Yes, however doing so may undermine the power of the strike. You have the right to refuse to do this as well. Academic Freedom allows us to make decisions about our courses. You have the right to reject management recommendations for modifications to your pedagogy and technology. You also have the right to modify your courses in ways that reflect the chaotic circumstances on campus. Lack of TA support, noise, low attendance, and stress experienced by students are all legitimate reasons for modifications to a course, including canceling graded assignments. These kinds of changes are protected under academic freedom. Please use or modify the following text to communicate with your chair.

Dear Chair,

TAs assigned to my courses are exercising their protected right to participate in a strike. Assignments submitted by students are now delayed and may not be graded and returned to students. Given the circumstances, I will exercise discretion as faculty and utilize protections afforded through the principles of academic freedom to modify grading and assignments as necessary for the remainder of the strike or term. This could include removal of assignments from my syllabus, withholding grading of assignments submitted or other choices I deem necessary.

15. Q: I’ve modified my syllabus and/or assignments because of campus administration moving classes online and/or because my TA(s) are on strike. Does UC-AFT want to know I’ve done this labor?

A: Yes. We know that messages about “continuity of instruction” along with directives at some campuses to move classes online are creating confusion as well as extra work for many of our members. If you are among those doing extra work right now, or end up needing to do more work this term because of the impacts of the strike, please keep track of your time and labor. As in 2022, we will fight to ensure that no UC-AFT member works without compensation. If you have done additional labor to modify or change your class, and/or if you have been asked to do the work of your striking TA/GSR(s), fill out this form so UC-AFT knows and can follow up with you.

16. Q: Can I cancel my final exam?

A: Maybe. Policy on finals is set by the Academic Senate and not addressed in our contract. In most cases, faculty have discretion to design and implement courses, including the assignment and weighting of final exams. In response to the strike, the Academic Senate on campuses may issue new policies. You should follow the Senate policies to the best of your ability. There are some legitimate reasons why it may be impossible to follow the policy. For example, some large courses require one proctor for a certain number of students. If your TAs are your proctors, and they are on strike, this could mean that offering your exam would violate policy. This issue (or other similar issues) should be raised with your supervisor or department chair. Please use the following text to communicate with your chair.

Dear Chair,

TAs assigned to my courses are exercising their protected right to participate in a strike. My course is enrolled with 500 students. Current policy and the logistics of grading will not allow me to offer a final exam as indicated in my syllabus. Given the circumstances, I will exercise discretion as faculty and utilize protections afforded through the principals of academic freedom to modify grading and assignments as necessary for the remainder of the strike or term. This could include cancellation of the final exam for this course.

17. Q: My TAs provide protected reasonable accommodation support for me as the instructor of record. What should I do if they strike?

A: Here’s language you can use to inform your department that your TAs provide protected reasonable accommodation support. Be sure to copy a UC-AFT staff person or leader on this correspondence so that we can continue to help you as needed.:


Dear chair,

I am a person with (a) disability(ies) protected under Title I & Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. I have relied on collaboration with my teaching assistants in order to complete tasks for which I would otherwise need reasonable accommodation, including record-keeping and grading. The absence of teaching assistants while the term is in progress functions as a loss of disability access. If I were to attempt to complete all grading and record-keeping work normally assigned to teaching assistants based on my current syllabus, it would pose a significant challenge and hardship. In the absence of labor and product and collaboration with TAs, I will not be able to complete the course as designed. Please advise.

18. Q: What about student events or performances related to my class?

A: Events or performances that are part of how you regularly evaluate your students, you should continue to schedule and/or attend them. You could consider moving the event or performance to a location off campus, or talk with your students about what their preferred alternative might be. Note that campus policies in regards to events vary and it is important to

19. Q: What should I do if protesters come into my classroom during class?

A: This is up to you. As Instructors of Record, Unit 18 faculty have the right to respond to classroom interruptions as they see fit. Depending on the class, the students, and the physical classroom space, how a lecturer may choose to respond might vary. At some campuses where we have seen protesters come into classrooms, we’ve heard that faculty have chosen to remain silent or have asked the protesters to leave.

20. Q: I’m a Unit 17 Librarian, what rights and obligations do I have during a UAW strike?

A: That depends. Librarians who supervise Academic Student Employees, Graduate Student Researchers, or other UAW represented employees have the right to refuse to perform struck work and to report on the activities of the academic workers that they supervise. All UC-AFT workers are protected by the University of California’s Academic Freedom policy (APM 010) which is codified in Unit 17 and 18 CBAs (collective bargaining agreements). Like lecturers, librarians have the right to express their opinions and to participate in peaceful action as university community members, so long as they complete their assigned duties and fulfill their professional obligations under the Professional Activities (Unit 17 Article 3) provisions of the Unit 17 CBA.

21. Q: If UC-AFT filed a ULP, why can’t we legally strike?

A: UC-AFT members and leaders have not (yet) together discussed striking as a whole union, nor have we called for a strike authorization vote of all members. As many of us will remember, organizing a union for a strike takes time and commitment by a majority of engaged members. If a majority of UC-AFT members, leaders, and activists believe we should call a strike, we can organize ourselves to do so.

22. Q: Is UAW’s strike legal?

A: The determination of whether UAW’s strike violates their contract will be made by PERB, not the university. According to PERB case law, severe unfair labor practices can justify an unfair labor practice strike even when a no strikes clause is present in a contract. While we do not know what PERB will ultimately decide, workers engaged in a lawful ULP strike are protected from being terminated or disciplined for participating in the strike, and we must respect their right to strike. For more on the legality of the strike, read this op-ed by a UCLA Law Professor.

23. Q: I’ve heard that Senate faculty on my campus may file a ULP and call a strike of their own. Can I participate in it?
A: Likely no. But we are looking into the legality of this. Because Senate faculty (outside of UC Santa Cruz) are not unionized, we do not know how a ULP and strike would legally hold up for those who participate in a strike. We will update this information when we have it.