On Friday, UC Santa Cruz dismissed 54 graduate student teaching assistants for withholding Fall Quarter 2019 undergraduate grades as part of the wildcat strike for a cost-of-living adjustment, which began nearly three weeks ago. 

COLA movements have popped up in every UC except for UC Francisco. Siavash Ghadiri / Daily Nexus

UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason confirmed that UCSC dismissed the 54 graduate students, writing that UCSC leadership is “well aware of the housing crisis in Santa Cruz and has made numerous good faith efforts to offer solutions and assist our TAs.” 

He added that the “vast majority” of UCSC graduate students have returned to work. 

In an email sent out to the UCSC campus community, Interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer said that UCSC “has been left with no choice but to take an action that we truly and deeply hoped to avoid.” 

“We ultimately cannot retain graduate students as teaching assistants who will not fulfill their responsibilities,” she said. “While we have been able to successfully get 96 percent of grades submitted for the fall quarter, we cannot again jeopardize our undergraduates’ education or put them in a position where they may not have the teaching resources they need to succeed throughout the spring quarter.”

Prior to Friday, the UCSC administration had offered striking graduate students several substitutions to a COLA, including a one-time $2,500 stipend in financial aid, as well as two temporary housing assistance programs for graduate students. But the UCSC COLA movement, which is asking for a COLA of $1,412 per month, denounced UCSC’s offer, both on the picket line and on social media. 

These are the first official reported terminations as a result of the strike, despite weeks of threats from administrators. The original deadline for UCSC graduate students to turn in Fall Quarter 2019 undergraduate grades was last Friday, Feb. 21; UCSC later said it would verify which students submitted their grades yesterday, Feb. 27. 

Several graduate students who received dismissal letters posted screenshots of them on social media; one graduate student who had their spring quarter teaching assistant position with the feminist studies department terminated, Zia Puig, shared their letter with the Nexus. The letter can be viewed below: 

Courtesy of Zia Puig

“It’s not only about disrupting the function of the university. It’s about standing against the hyper-exploitation, standing against racism, it’s about standing against the way Janet Napolitano deported people,” Puig said, referring to their decision to continue withholding grades past the Feb. 27 deadline. 

Puig, who said half of their monthly paycheck goes toward rent, said they believe that the spring quarter dismissals are only the first wave, and that the administration will continue to suppress graduate students’ efforts. 

“I literally have thirty dollars in my credit card. I don’t have money in my bank account. When I started [going on] this strike, I started because I literally cannot afford another month here,” even as a Cota-Robles fellow, one of the “best” fellowships at UCSC, Puig said.

“People really need to understand that when we say we are literally starving, it is not an exaggeration. And that when we say we cannot pay rent, it is not an exaggeration. This is not a bunch of rich kids from UC Santa Cruz that are having fun doing a strike,” they added. 

UCSC graduate students have been striking without the authorization of their union, United Auto Workers Local 2865. In response to the news that UCSC had fired 54 of its graduate student workers, the union sent out a press release condemning UCSC’s decision, saying they were “shocked by UC’s callousness.” 

“Instead of firing TAs who are standing up for a decent standard of living for themselves, UC must sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate a cost of living increase,” UAW 2865 President Kavitha Iyengar said in the press release. 

Iyengar further urged the UC to come to the bargaining table to discuss a COLA for the 19,000 workers that the union represents, something the union has been formally asking for since Jan. 15.  

Hundreds of UC Santa Barbara graduate students teaching assistants began their own indefinite wildcat strike yesterday morning, meaning they will not grade, hold sections or do any work not related to their own degrees until the university meets their demands for a COLA of $1,807.51 per month. 

The UC Office of the President did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

On Twitter, U.S. Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders condemned UCSC’s decision to dismiss the graduate students, calling it “disgraceful.”

All workers deserve the right to bargain and strike for better wages and benefits. To Janet Napolitano and @UCSC: stop this outrageous union busting and negotiate in good faith,” Sanders said on his Twitter account. 

Updated [4:33 p.m.] 

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