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Fired UCSC Grad Students Can Get Their Jobs Back

Erika Mahoney
Earlier this year, graduate students who work as teaching assistants or in other academic position at UC Santa Cruz went on strike for higher pay. They demonstrated at the base of campus. This photograph was taken on March 1.

 At the beginning of the year, hundreds of UC Santa Cruz students gathered and marched at the base of campus demanding higher pay for graduate student workers. Over 40 of the striking students were fired for their involvement in the wildcat strike, but now, they’re eligible to get their jobs back.

The graduate student workers’ union, UAW 2865,and UCSC reached a settlement Tuesday. The news gave Veronica Hamilton, a PhD candidate in social psychology and the unit chair of the union, a lot of relief.

“I come from a low-income background, I would absolutely be the first person in my family to get a Ph.D. and so I’m glad that I can do it, I’m glad that I can finish,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton was one of 41 graduate students who was fired for not submitting grades to undergraduate students as part of the strike.

“The firing was meant to communicate to people across the state, that if you do this, if you get too rowdy, if you don’t follow the rules for how to fight back there will be severe consequences, your life will be ruined for it,” Hamilton said, “But what we showed through this victory is actually they won’t do that to you.”

When Tony Boardman, an international student completing a literature Ph.D. at UCSC, was fired from working as a teaching assistant, he worried he might have to return to the U.K. because his visa status is dependent on work.

“This process could have been over a long time ago,” Boardman said. “But I think this gives us some ground to restart our struggle from.”

The settlement gives the once-fired students some solid gains. Doctoral students are guaranteed funding equivalent to 50 percent of a teaching assistant job through the fifth year of their studies. Those pursuing masters degrees will qualify for two years. The campus also has plans to build more housing.

“Like many University of California campuses, UC Santa Cruz is in an area that is grappling with a severe housing shortage, which makes the cost of living incredibly expensive,” UCSC Spokesperson Scott Jason-Hernandez said in a statement. “The challenges are exacerbated by being a bedroom community for Silicon Valley-based companies’ employees.”

As a result of the settlement, those students' disciplinary records have been sealed and will be wiped clean in two years. That’s so long as they don’t participate in another wildcat, or unauthorized, strike. 

But Hamilton isn’t phased.

“A strike is on the table…and will remain on the table until we get a resolution,” she said. 

In June, UCSC committed to an annual $2,500 supplement to offset housing costs. Students originally requested around $1,400 a month.

“We have to keep fighting for a living wage because we don't make enough to live in the place we work,” Boardman said.

Next, Hamilton says they’re organizing action for a UC-wide Cost of Living Adjustment. Students at other UC campuses, including those in Los Angeles and Berkeley, have also been calling for higher wages.

Hannah Hagemann is a 2019 Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she will work at NPR's National Desk and Weekend Edition.
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