Although Big Labor would have everyone believe that unions are heading back to their heyday, the reality is that 2023 kept their downward swing alive with another all-time low union density rate. An exception to that rule would be higher education, where increased membership claims actually do hold some truth.

Over the past few years, union recruitment in the higher-ed industry has been particularly aggressive, with several unions going poaching. That’s the case for the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, and the Service Employees International Union. Much of their success is due to Gen Z’s love for unions, even if they don’t yet understand the realities of living under a union constitution until the sell-out deals hit.

Our main subject today involves colleges in California. Last year saw the UAW’s 45,000 University of California grad-student workers engage in a six-week strike, throwing a semester into disarray with the end result being substantially smaller raises than the union promised. New updates come from a different university, California State, and a few different unions:

  • In late January, 29,000 of the university’s professors and support staffers began the largest-volume-ever strike, which was meant to last five days but ended after less than a day. Despite a new deal passing, some dissent rose from the rank and file, disappointed that this deal didn’t lead to wages as high as promised.
  • In late February, 20,000 undergraduate student assistants voted to join the SEIU-affiliated CSU Employees Union. The workers are asking for higher wages, more work hours beyond the current 20-per-week limit, paid sick leave, and comped parking. This increases the CSUEU/SEIU local’s membership to 36,000 workers.

The Golden State’s labor laboratory tends to spread its trends elsewhere and fast, so it’s worth taking note of a few recent developments in other states:

As with Cal State, undergraduate bargaining units are also picking up steam across the U.S., with more developments sure to come. However, this trend is likely to be cyclical.

This past winter, not even The Grinch could stop student workers from hopping onto what Fain was selling. Yet Big Three auto workers are now beginning to call Fain a liar after being laid off due to increased labor costs after last year’s strikes. Dissent has also arisen from UAW members at Temple University after their recently brokered grad-student contract yielded lower-than-fast-food wages.

Gen Z is a particularly observant bunch, so it’s only a matter of time before they realize false union promises are hoodwinking them. Ideally,  open communication in the workplace can prevent workers from feeling as though they need to organize in the first place to make their concerns heard.

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