UC Santa Barbara graduate students voted Monday evening to begin a full strike on Thursday for a cost-of-living adjustment, preparing to join UC Santa Cruz graduate students who have been on strike for the same issue for the past two weeks.
The vote for a full strike comes three days after graduate students occupied Cheadle Hall for 16 hours on Friday, demanding that Chancellor Henry T. Yang email UCSC administrators and UC President Janet Napolitano to “denounce threats” of firing against graduate students at UCSC and call for system-wide cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) negotiations.
COLA movements have popped up at every UC campus except for UC San Francisco, but the amount students are asking for varies from campus to campus depending on local housing costs. UCSB 4 COLA is calling for a monthly amount of $1,807.51, which would be given to all graduate students regardless of individual salary.
Although housing costs have been an issue in Santa Cruz for years, UCSC brought the discussion of a COLA to the forefront starting in September 2019.
After delivering COLA demands to administrators in November, UCSC graduate students began a partial strike in early December by withholding Fall Quarter 2019 grades, which at least 85 graduate students still have not submitted, according to a UCSC Graduate Student Association (GSA) email sent to UCSC graduate students on Sunday.
One of the largest points of tension between administrators and strikers is the withheld grades, for which graduate students at UCSC have been sent termination warning letters. UCSC Interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer gave UCSC strikers a deadline of Friday at midnight to turn in grades and end their strike, but the graduate students voted at a meeting late Friday night to continue striking.
Kletzer sent an email Monday morning to UCSC faculty “to clarify that fall-grade submission … will be verified on Thursday, Feb. 27,” a change from the previous Feb. 21 deadline set by Kletzer to submit grades.
The UCSC GSA wrote in an email to graduate students that they “consider [themselves] terminated from [their] employment” and that as of Monday morning, 351 graduate workers have committed to withholding Winter Quarter 2020 grades and several departments have committed to refusing Spring Quarter 2020 appointments if striking graduate students have their spring appointments revoked.
The Friday occupation of Cheadle Hall was organized in solidarity with the “doomsday strike” at UCSC, the name being coined due to the termination warnings and midnight deadline from administrators. Across the UC system, graduate students on almost every campus held a demonstration, rally or other action in support of the UCSC strikers on Friday.
The UCSC strike — and the imminent UCSB strike — is a wildcat strike, meaning that graduate students are acting separate from United Auto Workers Union 2865 (UAW 2865), the union that represents graduate students UC-wide. The current UAW 2865 contract extends until 2022, and a clause in the contract states that “there shall be no strikes, stoppages or interruptions of work” while the contract is still active.
However, UAW 2865 formally asked the UC to meet them at the bargaining table to negotiate a COLA for its members.
“Cost of living concerns have consistently been a high priority for academic student employees, and we have bargained over these matters in every set of contract negotiations at the systemwide table since 2000,” UAW 2865 President Kavitha Iyengar wrote to Peter Chester, executive director of labor relations within UCOP.
“We believe both the Union and the University have an interest in ameliorating the economic hardships faced by its academic student employees who face some of the most high-rent cities in the city and country, and welcome sitting down to negotiate over these matters.”
UCSB graduate students have been organizing for a COLA since December, but most of the movement’s initial actions were in solidarity with the striking UCSC graduate students.
Actions at UCSB began with a solidarity rally in December and with a “sick-out” in January, when approximately 150 graduate students, faculty and undergraduates marched from Storke Tower to the Arbor to coincide with the UC Regents meeting.
In addition to calling for a COLA of $1,807.51 per month, organizers demanded that the COLA payments do not come from “an increase in undergraduate or graduate tuition, campus fees, or university-owned housing rent.”
Organizers also emphasized that the university “must not retaliate in any form, implicit or explicit, against graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty, staff, or any other individuals who support and/or participate in the struggle for a COLA, regardless of citizenship or visa status.”
The demands also say that the COLA must be adjusted from year-to-year depending on inflation, and that the university should further accommodate graduate students with dependents who might have additional financial needs.
“We fight for a COLA not just for ourselves, but as part of a larger struggle for a dignified life for all at the university,” UCSB 4 COLA wrote in its demands.
“A COLA is more than just a raise: it is a structural commitment by the institution, recognizing that this university would not function without graduate student labor.”
Organizers within the UCSB 4 COLA movement have emphasized the importance of undergraduate and faculty solidarity and have been circulating petitions calling on both of them to support the movement. As of Monday evening, the UCSB faculty support petition had received 123 signatures, and the undergraduate petition had received 467, according to GSA President Cierra Sorin.
Over the past two weeks, organizers at UCSC have emphasized to COLA groups on other campuses the importance of taking further action and following them to strike.
In UCSB 4 COLA’s General Assembly meeting on Feb. 20, Jane Komori, one of the lead graduate student organizers at UCSC, spoke directly to UCSB graduate students about the need for striking beyond Santa Cruz.
After UCSC, UCSB’s movement is the most developed across the UC system.
“Other UC campuses are looking to Santa Barbara and taking inspiration in what you’re doing,” Komori said.
“We at Santa Cruz are staking a lot on your next moves,” she added.
Correction [Feb. 25, 1:04 p.m.]: Demands for a COLA at UCSB began in December, not January. This article has been updated with the correct information.