The University of California strike could spell changes for education models across the country, according to experts.

Over 48,000 academic workers working or the University of California are on strike and have been for the past three weeks. Across 10 campuses teaching assistants, student researchers, and postdoc scholars have walked out just before finals week. Jointly represented by the United Auto Workers Union, they are saying that they’re underpaid and overworked, and they’re likely right.

According to the university, the salaries offered to these staff are meant to cover part-time work, but many of them work hours extending well past forty a week.

“We are overworked and severely underpaid. We earn poverty wages,” says Rafael Jaime, a 33-year-old Ph.D. candidate at the University of California and the president of United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents almost 20,000 of the student workers participating in the strike. “What we’re really seeing is a crisis in academia.”

The strike highlights a long growing problem in higher education – tenured, full-time faculty members are making up smaller and smaller percentages of university staff, and the lack is increasingly filled with lower-tier employees who can be paid less and have less job security, while also impacting the education received by paying students.

“There’s such stratification between the tenured full professor and a graduate student employee or a postdoc or a tutor,” says Tim Cain, an associate professor at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education, who studies campus activism and unionization. “They’re doing a great deal of the work, and the work that they’re doing in the classroom is often very similar to the work of others who are getting paid substantially more.”

The strike asks for higher wages and stipends, and more paths to tenured positions. The University of California, which has an $18 billion endowment and reports an annual revenue of around $5.7 billion, says they are already paying above average salaries.

Photo by David Kn /