Kevin Wehr, California Faculty Association's Vice President and Professor at California State University - Sacramento, speaks to Presidents at CSU, Leadership, and the Board of Trustees during public comment to ask for fair wages outside the CSU Chancellor's office in Long Beach on May 23, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters
Kevin Wehr, the California Faculty Association’s vice president, speaks to the Board of Trustees in Long Beach on May 23, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

From CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn

The faculty union of the California State University plans to hold one-day strikes at four campuses in early December, significantly ratcheting up their pressure on the nation’s largest four-year public university to secure 12% raises and other key concessions.

The planned dates and campuses are:

  • Dec. 4, Cal Poly Pomona
  • Dec. 5, San Francisco State
  • Dec. 6, CSU Los Angeles
  • Dec. 7, Sacramento State

Those schools, which enroll around 110,000 students combined, are among the largest of the 23-campus system that educates nearly 460,000 undergraduates and graduate students. The timing is also significant as the one-day strikes fall about a week before the final exam period when students are cramming and in a high state of anxiety over their grades. The union maintains that it has the support of many students.

The strikes are conditional: If the Cal State leadership meets the union’s demands, the union will call off the walkouts. The dates could also change if a legal process to find a resolution between the union and university doesn’t come to a close by early December. The two sides are in a period of labor law called fact-finding in which a neutral labor specialist writes a report summarizing the disputes and recommendations to settle the impasse. The union cannot legally strike before that process ends.

The union, called the California Faculty Association, is also threatening to stage more strikes during the spring term, which begins in late January of next year. The union represents about 29,000 workers. Never in its history has it held systemwide strikes.

Union leadership prepared a website answering key questions about the planned December strikes.

“It is important to tell students the dates of the strike and to explain why you are going on strike,” the website says. “Many faculty members may also want to invite students to join them on the picket line. If this is your choice, you must emphasize to students that joining the picket line is entirely voluntary.”

The faculty union has been signaling that it’s prepared to strike since at least May. Last month 95% of its members who voted approved a strike resolution, giving leadership the power to call a strike if it deems it necessary.

The union wants the Cal State system to provide a 12% wage hike this year for all faculty to keep up with inflation, lift the minimum wages for the lowest-paid instructors, expand parental leave, provide lactation rooms for new parents, add more unionized mental health professionals for students, and more. Cal State has argued it cannot afford the wage increases, most recently countering with 15% wage hikes across three years, including a 5% bump this year.

Cal State has argued that its total costs far exceed how much it brings in from tuition and state taxpayer revenue — even after approving multiple years of tuition hikes that will take effect next year. The faculty union counters that the university builds annual surpluses that it could use toward raises but instead pours into reserves. Last month the union produced an accounting analysis that it says shows that Cal State has more in reserves that it can use for wage increases. The union vehemently opposed the tuition hikes, endearing itself to students. About 60% of undergraduates don’t pay tuition because of state and campus financial aid.

A smaller union with around 1,100 maintenance and electrical workers plans to strike next week, affecting 22 campuses.

Meanwhile, several other unions that battled with Cal State in recent months agreed to tentative contracts in the past few weeks, likely helping to avert a full strike of 60,000 workers.

In other labor news: Workers at a Stanislaus County tomato farm and packing company became the first to unionize under a new California law making it easier for farmworkers to organize, reports Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team.

The United Farm Workers said Thursday that the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board certified the election petition after 51% of 297 workers at DMB Packing voted for union representation, said Santiago Avila-Gomez, the board’s executive secretary.

The workers organized under new rules enacted this year by a controversial new California law which allows farmworkers to vote for union representation by signing union authorization cards, called card check. They’ll be part of UFW, which represents nearly 7,000 agricultural workers at 20 California companies. Read more about the new law in Nicole’s story.

And in even more labor news: The state scientists’ union told members Thursday it plans a walkout next week, the Sacramento Bee reports.The California Association of Professional Scientists plans a rolling three-day strike Nov. 15-17, in what would be a first for state civil servants. 

Focus on inequality: Each Friday, the California Divide team delivers a newsletter that focuses on the politics and policy of inequality. Read the latest installment here and subscribe here.

Election 2024 and economic concerns

Left: US Representative Adam Schiff. Photo by Ron Sachs, CNP/ Images via Reuters; Right: U.S. Representative Katie Porter. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter. Photos by Ron Sachs, CNP via Reuters and Andrew Harnik, Pool/Sipa USA via Reuters

A new poll echoes others that Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff are ahead of the pack for the U.S. Senate — and adds to the narrative that two Democrats will emerge from the March 5 primary.   

Among likely voters, Schiff leads at 21% with Porter close behind at 18%, according to the Public Policy Institute of California survey. Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee is third at 9% and Republican Eric Early is next at 6%.

Porter and Schiff were basically tied at the top of a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released earlier this week as well. But the results should be taken with more than a grain of salt. 

In December 2017, one poll suggested that two Democrats — then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — were well ahead in the race for governor, at 26% and 17%, respectively. Republican John Cox trailed at 9%. 

But in the June 2018 primary, Cox finished second with 25% of the vote, nearly doubling Villaraigosa’s 13%. That November, Newsom won easily. And speaking of Newsom, his job approval rating in this poll is 51% on jobs and the economy, compared to 44% overall in the Berkeley survey.

In other election numbers from the new poll: Among Republican likely voters, former President Donald Trump, at 53%, could be primed to sweep all of California’s presidential delegates. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is at 12% and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is at 9%. But if the general election were now, all likely voters surveyed put President Biden at 60% and Trump at 29%.

The PPIC survey, however, focuses on the economy and financial health of Californians — and people are worried. Some key findings:

  • 64% said they expect bad economic times in the next year, and 61% said the American Dream is more difficult to reach in California;
  • 71% said children will be financially worse off than their parents, a record high number and up from 63% in 2020;
  • 82% said the availability of good-paying jobs is a problem where they live, and 28% say it’s so bad they’re considering a move;
  • 55% said their personal finances are about the same as last year, but 29% said it’s worse;
  • 30% said they’ve cut back on food and 19% said they’ve put off a visit to the doctor.

Not surprisingly, lower-income respondents are more concerned about the financial situation.

The poll was conducted Oct. 3-19 in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Fighting fake news in schools

Students at a classroom at St. HOPE’s Public School 7 Elementary in Sacramento on May 11, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
St. HOPE Public School 7 Elementary in Sacramento used some of its stimulus funds to buy laptops for students. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

As the spread of misinformation and disinformation continues, California schools are gearing up to get the next generation ready, explains CalMatters’ education reporter Carolyn Jones

Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signed Assembly Bill 873, which requires that, starting Jan. 1, all K-12 students learn media literacy skills, such as recognizing fake news and thinking critically about what they see on the internet. 

It won’t be a standalone class, but instead will be woven into existing classes and lessons throughout the school year.

The new law comes amid rising public distrust in the media, especially among young people. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that adults under age 30 are nearly as likely to believe information on social media as they are from national news outlets.

Advocates say media literacy can help change that, by teaching students how to recognize reliable news sources and the crucial role that media plays in a democracy. 

  • Jennifer Ormsby, library services manager for L.A. County’s Office of Education: “The increase in Holocaust denial, climate change denial, conspiracy theories getting a foothold, and now AI … all this shows how important media literacy is for our democracy right now.”

But the new law falls short of recommendations from Media Literacy Now, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. It doesn’t include funding to train teachers, an advisory committee, input from librarians, surveys or a way to monitor the law’s effectiveness.

Assemblymember Marc Berman, a Democrat from Palo Alto who authored the new law, said keeping it simple was key to getting it passed and implemented quickly, and that those features can be implemented later. Carolyn has more details on the new law.

Suspicious packages target election offices

Voters at the reception desk at the Sacramento County elections office in Sacramento on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

The U.S. Postal Service intercepted two suspicious envelopes headed to elections offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento, the Secretary of State’s office announced Thursday.

Federal and state authorities are investigating the incident — including where the envelopes came from and what they contained — but there was no confirmation that they contained toxic substances, according to a statement from Secretary of State Shirley Weber. 

Weber’s office is advising other local election offices to take precautions with handling mail. 

Sacramento County was alerted to the suspicious mailings to its Department of Voter Registration and Elections office on Wednesday evening by federal and state agencies, according to a statement from county spokesperson Ken Casparis. The investigation is being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service.  

Weber’s statement noted there has been a trend of suspicious mail sent to election offices in Georgia, Oregon and Washington state containing suspicious substances, including fentanyl.

  • Weber: “We will continue to work with state and federal law enforcement authorities on responding to any threats to California elections officials.” 

CalMatters Commentary

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Sameea Kamal is a reporter at CalMatters covering the state Capitol and California politics. She joined CalMatters in June 2021 from the Los Angeles Times, where she was a News Desk editor. Sameea was...