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Judge orders union to halt UC campus strikes

Judge orders union to halt UC campus strikes

As the sun set last Friday, sanity returned briefly to California when a judge told University of California employees to end a strike aimed at disrupting the last few weeks of the school year.

In ordering members of United Auto Workers Local 4811 back to work, Orange County Superior Court Judge Randall Sherman sided with UC administrators who had said the obvious: the attempt of graduate teaching assistants and researchers to shut down their campuses was creating “irreparable harm” to students.

In California, that’s a reason for hope.

But until the judge’s sensible order, it was nuts as usual at the state’s college campuses — the kind of chaos that reveals like a flare shot into the night sky the corrupting role of the unions that run California government.

This latest story began with the Hamas raid into Israel on October 7. But you know about that. Equally well understood is the way anti-Israel protests on college campuses morphed quickly into violence and arrests. What’s less well known is what came next: When, in the face of actual policing, those protests seemed to collapse — UAW 4811, a government union operating on University of California campuses, provided the chest-pounding and pulmonary assistance to revivify them.

On May 15, UAW Local 4811 announced that its 48,000 members — UC graduate students who, for instance, grade tests — would no longer work. They would shut down the campuses just as students were prepping for finals, graduations and life.

The union’s remarkable claim: that the arrest of some of their members during violent protests violated their free speech rights and constituted a threat to their “workplace safety.” Among their demands: free students arrested during violent showdowns with police and cut off all ties to Israeli and even American Jewish researchers.

As the UAW strikes hit six of 10 UC campuses (at Davis, UCLA, Santa Cruz, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Irvine), UC officials appealed to the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. PERB is the government agency that serves as a kind of religious court to adjudicate government employment conflicts. But — and if you take nothing else from this story — remember this: PERB has always been a creature of government unions. Its four current board members were appointed by Jerry Brown or Gavin Newsom, and their resumes make it absolutely clear why:

  • Chair Eric Bank comes from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in San Diego.

  • Fellow trustee Arthur Krantz worked for Leonard Carder LLP, the Oakland-based law firm that represents government unions.

  • Lou Paulson was president of the state’s firefighters’ union.

  • Adrin Nazarian was a state assemblyman until 2022, backed endlessly in his political campaigns by SEIU, the California Teachers Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nurses union and the California Labor Federation.

It was no surprise that this marsupial body voted 4-0 to repudiate University of California officials and endorse a strike designed to paralyze University of California campuses at the end of an academic year. (It’s tempting to footnote here the enlightening current debate over “Chevron deference,” the progressive notion that mere regulators like the PERB Four have accrued to themselves near-total political authority that would otherwise be constitutionally separated among the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.) They waved off as nonsense the UC’s claim that the strike was causing “irreparable harm” to students.

UAW 4811 officials — most of them barely out of short pants — cock-a-doodled PERB’s beatdown of the UC.

“It’s heartening to see that PERB has once again upheld the law. It’s time for UC to face reality,” said Rafael Jaime, a Ph.D. student at UCLA and the president of UAW 4811.

Reality came quickly. UC officials took their case to a real court with a real berobed Judge Sherman who issued a temporary restraining order that halted the strike.

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

And that’s when union officials and their allies in the media and in law schools went bonkers.

They predictably declared they could see the apocalypse from here. Sherman (they noted) is an Orange County judge; Orange County is a proxy for “conservative,” and that of course a proxy for “Trump” which is, in turn, a sign of the End Times. That geographical fact — and the knowledge that Sherman was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (hold your breath), a Republican — were the only phenomena we needed to see.

Fresh off her victory at the union-run PERB, UAW attorney Margo Feinberg lost her grip on irony. She accused university officials of “forum shopping” — looking for a judge who would favor the University of California and settling on Sherman. “We’re in the wrong place” she said to the judge. “No disrespect, your honor, but we should be before the Public Employment Relations Board.”

“It is pretty brazen because they [the UC officials] are going simply [to superior court] because they did not like the outcome at PERB,” UC Irvine law professor Veena Dubal told the Los Angeles Times. 

Despite Sherman’s decision, “UAW strikers will still be confident that they can prevail,” John Logan, professor of labor studies at San Francisco State, told the Times. “But the timing of the ruling will make it difficult for them to get the leverage they would have had by striking at the end of the quarter.”

Using students as leverage was always key to the strike. And it might be just a bit on the nose to observe that “leverage” — the defense of hostage-takers in Israel by hostage-takers on California college campuses — is what this strike was always about.

Many have expressed surprise that the United Auto Workers represents California graduate students. Once noteworthy for its industrial origins, anti-communism and support for a vigorous American military and a defense of democracy overseas, UAW has since followed the labor marketplace, now deindustrialized and increasingly anti-American — workplaces like university campuses.

UAW’s national leadership is all in for the struggle sessions. In December, UAW national president Shawn Fain was in Washington, D.C., alongside representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.), “a couple of the most badass representatives in Congress,” to call for a cease-fire and to denounce all the evils, not just antisemitism but also “Islamophobia” and “anti-Arab racism,” “all of which are growing in our nation at this moment and must be stopped.”

Writing on X on May 2, Fain declared, “The UAW will never support the mass arrest or intimidation of those exercising their right to protest, strike, or speak out against injustice. Our union has been calling for a ceasefire for six months. This war is wrong, and this response against students and academic workers, many of them UAW members, is wrong.”

That was the impulse behind the UC strikes. Just a day before Judge Sherman’s decision last Friday, visitors to UC Irvine could see UAW protestors marching to the beat of a diminutive drum corps, holding signs that read “UAW on strike. Unfair labor practice” — a reference to their claim that the arrest of some of them during the May 15 riot constitutes a breach of their collectively bargained labor contract.

But their chants — including megaphoned calls for “intifada” — and the wearing of the Palestinian keffiyeh tell you more about the challenges to an enlightenment movement that has lasted centuries, improved the lives of billions, and now appears to have hit a dead end here at a California campus that was once the envy of the world.

But for this moment, at least, there’s sanity.

Government unions like UAW 4811 are at the center of the legal corruption that ails California. Raising and spending more than a billion dollars every election cycle, leaders of teachers, UC workers, police and other unions finance the campaigns of candidates who, once in office, return the favor with sweetheart deals — like the arrangement in which two union-backed California governors appointed four union hacks to judge the merits of cases in which government unions are involved.

The California Policy Center’s mission of restoring the California Dream — a culture in which Californians are allowed to pursue life, liberty and happiness — requires government reform. Such reform always runs directly into the face of government unions.

In that fight, we’re glad to have you on our side. If you’re reading this as a spy for government unions, welcome to reality.

Will Swaim is president of the California Policy Center and co-host with David Bahnsen of National Review’s “Radio Free California” podcast. 

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