SAN FRANCISCO - About 48,000 workers at all 10 University of California schools may go on strike starting Monday.
That includes thousands of employees at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco in the Bay Area.
The UC system has been bargaining with the United Auto Workers union for months, but they haven't been able to come to an agreement.
UAW represents postdoctoral researchers, academic researchers, graduate student researchers and student employees such as teaching assistants and tutors at UC schools.
The union said it has filed more than 20 unfair labor practices against the UC system. They're fighting for things like pay that matches the cost of living, free public transit passes, childcare reimbursements and expanded family leave.
A strike could affect the cutting-edge research being done at these universities and may even cancel classes at some.
"I do tissue culture, maintain cell lines, they need to be fed regularly. I froze them because we don’t know when we’re coming back, when the UC is going to stop breaking the law and come back in good faith," said Maura McDonagh, a graduate student researcher studying Multiple Sclerosis at UCSF.
McDonagh was in lab on Friday, despite the Veterans' Day holiday, because she isn't sure when she'll be able to get back to her research since she will be on the picket line Monday.
"We’re not going to let this $46 billion industry run over the people who actually make this place work," said McDonagh.
At UCSF, about 3,000 employees plan to strike, which could cause many important projects on cancer and neurodegenerative diseases to come to a halt.
"We’re here because we enjoy it, because we really believe that what we’re doing is going to advance science. At the heart of it, we’re all scientists, we care about the scientific method and doing things rigorously. And we want to be able to keep doing that, we want to be able to just do that without worrying about rent due on the first, do I qualify for food stamps or not," said McDonagh.
At UC Berkeley, where they have an undergraduate program, more like 9,000 employees could strike.
"Our labor as academic student employees, as readers and graduate student instructors, we’re the like backbone of a lot of the teaching and instruction that happens for a lot of the undergrads and grad students at Cal. So yea, we expect most classes to be canceled," said Mia Antezzo, an academic student employee at UC Berkeley.
A spokesperson for UC Berkeley said in a statement, "Campus leaders have been providing guidance to deans, chairs, instructors, researchers and others to prepare for a potential strike and to help mitigate any impacts. Department chairs and faculty will work together to ensure the least amount of disruption to the delivery of instruction."
Union members say they’re fighting to overcome unfair working conditions. Antezzo said she can't even afford to live in Berkeley.
"I think that we deserve a fair contract, and it’s urgent for me because I live in severe rent burden and am not paid enough. So having a fair contract is really important to me," said Antezzo.
UAW is helping to pay some employees while they aren't working, through the union's strike fund.
"The strike pay will help cover some of my expenses, and we’re going to try to make it work as long as we can. And the more people we turn out earlier, hopefully the quicker this resolves," said Antezzo.
The UC system has responded to each of the union’s demands in a statement online, saying that they’ve given generous offers including "pay increases, expanded paid leaves, increased family support and child care benefits."
"Throughout negotiations, UC has listened carefully to UAW priorities with an open mind and a genuine willingness to compromise," the statement continued.
They hope to reach an agreement before Monday.
But employees say the UC's offer isn't enough.
"Ninety-one percent of grad workers are rent burden so spending 30% or more on rent, and 61% of post docs are in the same boat. So already (they're) not making enough and the UC’s proposals thus far are effective pay cuts when you consider inflation," said McDonagh.
McDonagh said there's a lot of frustration and anger among employees right now, but there is also hope that this strike could help affect change.
"I’m stopping all research duties, and I’m going to be out on the picket and that means that I’m not moving my research forward," said McDonagh. "Ultimately it is a bit of a personal sacrifice, but I know that in the long run, however long the strike is, it’s going to lead to contracts that benefit 48,000 of us for the next 3-5 years."