This past December, UC Santa Cruz graduate students decided to go on a “wildcat strike,” or work stoppage. This “occurs during the term of a collective bargaining agreement without the approval of union leadership and in violation of a no-strike clause.” In doing this, they decided not to submit fall quarter grades because the university would not meet with them to discuss their demands for a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. Currently, they are asking for a COLA of $1,412 per month to help alleviate rent burden, which is defined as spending more than 30% of one’s income for rent. At the moment, the students’ contract only offers a 3% increase to support the cost of living many say this is not enough. 

Ida Kazerani / Daily Nexus

I strongly support the UC Santa Cruz graduate students because even though they make a similar amount as other graduate students at other UC campuses, the cost of living is more expensive than in some areas of the state, causing them to live in terrible conditions. It also affects undergraduate students and, so far, the university has taken steps to avoid addressing the demands.

Graduate students are simply not being paid enough for the amount of work they contribute to the school. Overall, at 50% appointment, they can be assigned a workload of 220 hours per quarter. Depending on the instructor and course, they can be asked to do a lot of the grading for undergraduate classes and interfacing with students and contribute valuable research. Currently, for 50% appointment at UC Santa Cruz, TAs are paid $2,434 monthly and $21,906 annually. More than 50% of this income goes to their housing after taxes. For 50% appointment, TAs at UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, UC Los Angeles and here at UC Santa Barbara earn around the same amount monthly and yearly.

However, since the cost of living is different depending on the area, the same amount of pay can feel like less for graduate students at UCSC. A poll conducted at UCSB of around 600 graduate students found that respondents spent on average 48% of their income on rent. Low pay and a high cost of living have caused significant rent burden that not only affects UCSC but also graduate students at other UC campuses. 

Undergraduates and graduates should support one another if they hope to gain the university’s cooperation.

Moreover, at different UC campuses, rent burden causes graduate students to subject themselves to horrible housing conditions. At UCSC, an anonymous graduate student detailed their living situation, saying, “In my previous home I was subject to 5 years of stachybotrys poisoning due to a criminally negligent landlord and having no affordable alternatives. I go into debt every month while skipping meals and going to the OPERS food pantry three times a week despite being in the 2nd highest tier of pay among graduate students.” 

Here at UCSB, graduate students who were interviewed at last Wednesday’s “sick-out” spoke about how some of their coworkers are homeless, working multiple jobs and having difficulty finding job opportunities in the summer.

I interviewed an international graduate student who works as a TA. The student talked about how rent burden has affected her life, mentioning a difficult time with a landlord who wanted to move back into the house. “My roommates who are not international students had a little bit more to work with … I had to say, no guys, sorry I can’t because that little bit extra you’re willing to stretch is impossible for me.”

She also said, “It’s stressful because you feel so vulnerable so much of the time and it is the kind of stress that wakes you up in the night and the kind of stress that invades your day in a way that can impede productivity and creativity, which are the things we come here to do.” 

These issues affect undergraduate students as well. Rent burden impacts how effectively graduate students can do their jobs when they are worried about their own well-being. It is safe to assume that they are not going to worry about grading someone’s paper when they are worried about eating and sleeping. As such, undergraduates may not be receiving the education for which they paid. 

Undergraduates and graduates should support one another if they hope to gain the university’s cooperation. Currently, UCSC has not done anything to lift the burden off of students. The administration has expressed that it cannot address a wage increase because they are legally prohibited from negotiating and because the students have to go through the proper channels to negotiate with their union representative and United Auto Workers (UAW 2865), the union they are contracted under. It has also stated that it will not meet with students because work stoppage is illegal and violates their contract. 

With low pay, high cost of living and terrible housing conditions, it can be hard for graduate students to do their job as effectively as they would like.

In response to this refusal to negotiate, the UCSC Graduate Student Association stated that “there is nothing in state or federal labor law that prevents an employer from meeting with workers in an effort to resolve a dispute while workers are in contract even if these workers are engaging in a wildcat work stoppage.” Sarah Mason, a former unit chair for their campus union said, “There is nothing in labor law that prevents an employer and a union from voluntarily agreeing to reopen contracts.”

Veronica Hamilton, a UCSC UAW 2865 unit chair, has formally requested to meet to discuss COLA. This clearly shows that the university is not worried about the legal aspects of negotiating with students — it is just not willing to meet because it does not want to.

In order to counteract the graduate students, the university has tried to get lecturers to confiscate exam materials in situations in which they would ordinarily be collected and graded by graduate students to circumvent the non-grading of assignments. The university has also told undergraduate students that the withheld work would result in “potential disqualification, being unable to enroll in classes that require a prerequisite taken this quarter, and delays in financial aid and graduation.” However, multiple steps have been taken to protect undergraduates. Since UCSC will not cooperate, a poll has determined that the GSA will potentially withhold winter quarter grades, with 83% of students supporting the hold of final grades and 50% supporting holding all the grades. 

With low pay, high cost of living and terrible housing conditions, it can be hard for graduate students to do their job as effectively as they would like. It is important that undergraduates and graduates remain informed about the previously mentioned issues as the strike moves forward. These issues affect everyone on campus, and the only way change can occur is if students do their due diligence and offer their support. 

Lexus Rodriguez strongly believes that employed graduate students need and deserve a COLA.