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University of California Workers Ordered to End Strike Over Protest Grievances

A strike by University of California academic workers over the treatment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators was temporarily halted by a Southern California judge on Friday after the university argued the walkout was causing students “irreparable harm.”

The temporary restraining order, issued by Judge Randall J. Sherman of the Orange County Superior Court, came as tens of thousands of U.C. students were preparing for finals at the end of the spring quarter. The judge’s order came in response to the third attempt by the public university system to force thousands of unionized teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and other key workers back to work.

Workers represented by United Auto Workers Local 4811 walked off the job May 20 at U.C. Santa Cruz and then extended the rolling strike to campuses at Davis, Los Angeles, Irvine, San Diego and Santa Barbara. The union represents about 48,000 graduate students and other academic workers across the U.C. system, which encompasses 10 universities and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The academic workers have contended, among various charges, that the University of California’s response to demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war has amounted to a unilateral change in free speech policies and has created an unsafe work environment.

The university system has said that the strike is not about working conditions, but rather an attempt to force U.C. institutions to take a position on a political issue. University leaders have twice asked the state Public Employment Relations Board, which normally oversees public sector labor issues, to declare the union’s action unlawful. The board found both times that the university’s claims did not meet the legal threshold required to block the strike.

The university asked for injunctive relief on Tuesday and sued the union for breach of contract, charging that the workers had violated no-strike clauses in their collective bargaining agreements. In a separate filing, the state labor board noted that it was already examining that issue and questioned whether the Orange County Superior Court — whose jurisdiction includes Irvine, the site of one of the walkouts — was the appropriate forum for the university to seek relief.

The order did not decide on the strike’s merits or the board’s jurisdiction, finding only that the university had made a sufficient case to halt the walkout until a hearing could be held. But the practical effect is that the strike will effectively end; the judge set the next court date for June 27, and the strike was only authorized through June 30. Besides that, campuses will be dramatically quieter once finals end next week.

“We are extremely grateful for a pause in this strike so our students can complete their academic studies,” Melissa Matella, the University of California’s associate vice president for systemwide labor relations, said in a statement. She added that the strike “would have caused irreversible setbacks to students’ academic achievements and may have stalled critical research.”

Rafael Jaime, president of U.A.W. 4811, called the strike “far from over.”

“U.C. academic workers are facing down an attack on our whole movement,” he said. “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.”

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