May 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Unrest at University of California, Irvine, as UC union authorizes strike

A University of California, Irvine, professor is arrested during a demonstration at UCI on Wednesday. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of California, Irvine, were arrested as police moved in to clear an encampment on campus Wednesday evening.

The big picture: The arrests came hours after the union representing some 48,000 University of California graduate students and other academic workers voted to authorize a strike over college crackdowns on pro-Palestinian protests on campuses in recent weeks, citing free speech and student safety concerns.

State of play: The university said in an emergency update that the college contacted local law enforcement after a group of several hundred protesters entered the UC Irvine campus and surrounded the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall and the college declared a "violent protest."

  • The school "received on-site assistance from the Irvine Police Department and Orange County Sheriff's department as protesters swarmed the campus joining a group of protesters who had established an encampment on the campus," added the statement, which noted classes were cancelled for the rest of the day.
  • A UC Irvine spokesperson told Reuters that police had cleared the plaza and "retaken the lecture hall," describing demonstrators as "begrudgingly cooperative" and noting there had been a "minimal number of arrests."
  • Meanwhile, United Auto Workers Local 4811 announced that the vote authorizing a strike had passed with 79% of support from members.
  • The union had previously criticized the arrest of Gaza war protesters during demonstrations at both the University of California, Los Angeles, and UC San Diego earlier this month.

What we're watching: Per a statement on the union's website, UAW 4811 is calling on the college to address five concerns:

  1. Amnesty for students and faculty who've been arrested due to protesting the Israel-Hamas war.
  2. Free speech rights.
  3. That U.C. divests from Israel or companies that support the country.
  4. Disclosure of all funding sources and investments.
  5. "Empower researchers to opt out from funding sources tied to the military or oppression of Palestinians."

What they're saying: "UC believes that a strike sets a dangerous precedent that would introduce non-labor issues into labor agreements," said a UC spokesperson in an emailed statement.

  • "If a strike is allowed for political and social disputes, the associated work stoppages would significantly impact UC's ability to deliver on its promises to its students, community and the State of California," the spokesperson said.
  • "To be clear, the UC understands and embraces its role as a forum for free speech, lawful protests, and public debate. However, given that role, these non-labor-related disputes cannot prevent it from fulfilling its academic mission," she added.
  • "Further, this precedent would apply far beyond the University, impacting public employers across the state and their ability to deliver core services."

Go deeper: Endowment secrecy complicates campus "divestment" demands

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