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University of California will force striking workers to repay wages

University of California will seek repayment of wages from graduate workers who went on strike in December.

A university spokesperson, Ryan King, said the university is legally obligated to be repaid by striking workers. The university “may not legally pay our employees or gift them funds if they did not provide a service to the institution.”

King cited state and federal regulations that prohibit the payment of workers who are not working. The spokesperson noted that although the university respects the decision to go on strike, “that principled decision results in a reduction of pay associated with labor withheld.”

To mitigate the financial impact for workers, the university offers the option of spreading out the repayments over several pay periods, in addition to “offering direct pay options, providing additional appointments when available, and working to increase work on grants when it comports with the terms of the grant.”

Workers who went on strike must also fill out a “self-attestation” form to accurately record pay for work done during the strike within a month’s time.

Complicating the matter are the various unions that stopped their strike on different days, leaving each union with a different calculation for withheld labor due to the strike.

If figuring out repayment schedules or filling out a form was not burdensome enough, the strike could impact the workers’ Social Security and Medicare wages for the 2022 tax year. The university pointed out that the university will have to reissue a new tax and wage statement, known as an IRS Form W-2c. Considering that tax season has started, this paperwork wrinkle adds another potential headache to tax-paying workers at the university.

UAW 2865 President Rafael Jaime blamed the university for not being transparent on the amount of wages to be repaid to the university. “There needs to be a fair process to make sure that workers aren’t left with additional hardships.” UAW 2865 represents 19,000 teaching assistants, tutors, and instructors.

UAW 2865 and other unions filed an unfair labor practice charge against the university with the California Public Employment Relations Board because they object to the university’s wage repayment announcement “without getting employee consent or first notifying employees of the actual deduction amounts before money was withheld from their paychecks.”

The university defended itself against these allegations when it said, “The University has been communicating with UAW since before the strike began on a self-attestation for covering work missed over the work stoppage period.”

Questions remain whether withholding labor, as the strike did, affected the accrual of worker benefits such as healthcare, paid time off, or pension payments.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.