54 Striking Graduate Students At UC Santa Cruz Fired

Feb 28, 2020

UC Santa Cruz announced Friday that 54 striking graduate students will lose their spring jobs. The news came as the students marked their third full week of not teaching.

A couple of weeks ago, campus administrators gave the striking students an ultimatum, turn in missing grades or lose their jobs. Over 50 graduate teaching assistants continued to withhold grades. 

In a statement, Interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer said, “We have been left with no choice but to take an action that we had truly and deeply hoped to avoid.”

According to the university, there were about 700 graduate teaching students, or TAs, this past fall. The university says 96% of fall grades are in.

Hundreds of TAs initiated the grading strike last December. They’ve been calling for a cost of living adjustment, an extra $1,400 a month to cope with Santa Cruz’s high cost of housing. The wildcat strike escalated into a teaching strike three weeks ago.

Students have been demonstrating at the base of campus for three weeks now. This photograph was taken on February 11.
Credit Erika Mahoney

Veronica Hamilton, a graduate TA and one of the strike leaders, said this isn’t the end. While UC Santa Cruz has offered some financial concessions, including an annual $2,500 housing supplement, Hamilton says it's not what they want. 

“Firing hungry graduate students is the wrong move,” Hamilton said Friday over the phone.

Instead, she believes it will invigorate the movement. Hamilton noted that numerous graduate students have said they won’t TA next quarter because of the firings. Meanwhile, students at UC Santa Barbara started a teaching strike this week and students at UC Davis announced a grading strike. UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley and UCLA are also having conversations about starting some labor action.

UAW 2865, which represents more than 19,000 graduate student workers across the University of California system, released a statement Friday afternoon.

“Today we stand 100% in solidarity with those who were terminated at Santa Cruz,” said Kavitha Iyengar, President of UAW Local 2865. “We are shocked by UC’s callousness, and by the violence that so many protesters experienced as they peacefully made the case for a cost of living increase. “

Union leaders say they've been asking the University of California to re-negotiate a cost of living increase for academic student employees for months. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against UC Thursday.

The University of California, Office of the President responded to a KAZU News inquiry about the filing via email.

“We are aware that UAW has filed its own complaint which we are currently reviewing and we will be responding in the due course,” Andrew Gordon, Associate Director of Media Relations with the UC Office of the President, wrote.

Senator Bernie Sanders weighed in on Twitter. "This is disgraceful. All workers deserve the right to bargain and strike for better wages and benefits," he wrote.

UC Santa Cruz Grad Students will release more information about their plans next week.

KAZU’s Michelle Loxton interviewed KAZU’s Erika Mahoney about the firings on Friday. Here's the transcript.

Michelle Loxton (ML): How many graduate teaching assistants, or TAs, have been let go?

Erika Mahoney (EM): Campus administration announced that 54 TAs will not receive spring quarter appointments. In a statement, the university said they were left with no choice. Campus admin had set an ultimatum a couple of weeks ago... turn in grades or risk being fired. 

ML: Take us back to the beginning. How did we get here?

EM: Back in December, hundreds of graduate students who work as TAs went on a grading strike. They’ve been calling for a cost of living adjustment.

The strike escalated three weeks ago into a teaching strike. Students have been rallying at the base of campus, which did result in over a dozen arrests. 

ML: Do the firings mean striking students and campus administration were unable to come to an agreement?

EM: It’s a complicated situation. The union that represents graduate students throughout the UC system says they’ve been asking the University of California to re-negotiate a cost of living increase for academic student employees. What UC Santa Cruz has offered includes an annual $2,500 housing supplement among other things. But the movement is growing. Students at UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis have started their own strikes.