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UC Santa Cruz Grad Students Take Strike To Next Level

Erika Mahoney
Hundreds of students picketed in front of the UCSC main entrance Tuesday.

Graduate students who work as teaching assistants at UC Santa Cruz are escalating their wildcat strike. They’ve been calling for higher pay to cope with the city’s high cost of living. After two months of withholding grades, they're now withholding labor. 

UPDATED 2/13/20 11:25AM: The teaching strike resumed Thursday, with demonstrators gathering for a fourth day on the picket lines. On Wednesday, police officers arrested 17 people. According to UC Santa Cruz, the demonstrators ignored repeated requests to move out of the intesection in front of the university. Demonstrators locked arms and sat in the roadway, facing off with dozens of officers dressed in riot gear. 

Credit Haneen Zain / City on a Hill Press
City on a Hill Press
On day three of the strike, protesters faced off with officers.

Graduate students said in a press release that one student sustained a gash to his face and another student sustained a broken finger. 

In a press release, graduate students wrote, "The size and brutality of the police response has been stark."

On Tuesday, over 300 students participated in the strike, blocking traffic. The group included graduate and undergraduate students along with some faculty members. Police dressed in riot gear stood nearby. 

Credit Erika Mahoney
Police monitored the protesting students in riot gear.

According to university officials, police arrested one undergraduate student Monday on allegations of delaying and obstructing officers, and for driving the wrong way on a roadway.

The graduate student teaching assistants are fighting for a cost of living adjustment, or COLA for short. They want an additional $1,400 a month.

“We need to be out of rent burden,” said Veronica Hamilton, a third year PhD student in social psychology. She’s also a TA. 

Hamilton said she received a disciplinary warning letter from the university last week. 

“There are many people who are ready to drop out of graduate school because they can't afford it. This is a crisis situation. And what we need is the administration to prioritize graduate students in their budget,” said Hamilton.

Credit Erika Mahoney
Veronica Hamilton, a third year PhD student, is one of the teaching assistants on strike.

The university waives tuition for grad students who work as TAs. They also give them benefits like health insurance and reimburse child care expenses.  The TAs’ 20-hour work week includes instructing labs, holding office hours and grading. 

But Hamilton says the wage they’re paid, about $20,000 a year, isn’t enough to afford housing. She says she makes about $2,100 a month, yet her rent costs $1,800.

The striking students have support from some undergraduates as well as some professors.

“The strike is raising really important and fundamental issues in relationship to graduate student economic justice and housing justice in Santa Cruz, one of the most expensive cities to live in in the country,” said T.J. Demos, a History of Art and Visual Culture professor.

The strike began two months ago when graduate students decided to not submit grades for the undergrad courses they help teach. This month, they decided to continue witholding grades. 

Scott Hernandez Jason, the spokesperson for UC Santa Cruz, says the school is extremely disappointed about this. In an email, he said,  "This can have a profound, and perhaps unexpected, impact on our undergraduate students, including loss of financial aid, ability to graduate, declare a major, or apply to other programs including graduate school."

Credit Erika Mahoney
Graduate students at UC Santa Cruz are escalating their wildcat strike. They’ve been calling for higher pay to cope with the city’s high cost of living.

Hernandez-Jason said the school does not have the authority to change the TAs labor contract because it was already negotiated by the union representing grad students throughout the UC system.

Striking grad students did meet with university leaders Tuesday and plan to have another meeting Wednesday.

Erika joined KAZU in 2016. Her roots in radio began at an early age working for the independent community radio station in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2012, Erika spent four years working as a television reporter. She’s very happy to be back in public radio and loves living in the Monterey Bay Area.
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