A new Twitter account — @UCSF4COLA — launched early Sunday morning, with a singular post that urged UC San Francisco graduate students to show up to a Wednesday rally “to show that we are united in our fight for accessible higher education.”
But the post, and the creation of the account, marked more than just the launch of another cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) movement, which have been rapidly spreading across the UC since December. With the launch of a COLA group at UCSF, all 10 UC campuses now have rumblings of COLA organizing on their respective campuses.
And they’re determined to make the university listen.
Two campuses, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara, have launched full strikes. UCSC graduate students have been on strike since early February, and UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive dismissed at least 54 of them from their Spring Quarter 2020 appointments last Friday, sparking outrage across the UC system.
UCSB graduate students began their own full strike last Thursday; at UC Davis, graduate students began a grading strike on Feb. 27, meaning they are withholding Winter Quarter 2020 grades. They will continue to strike until their demands are met, according to a statement posted to the movement’s Twitter account.
COLA movements on other campuses are planning a one-day, full work stoppage “blackout” strike on Thursday, March 5, in solidarity with the dismissed UCSC graduate students. At each campus, COLA movements are urging faculty to cancel all classes and undergraduate students to walk out of any classes that professors didn’t cancel. Organizers are also asking participants to wear all black.
“There is an ever growing number of students who are ready to strike and who are prepared to strike,” Zak Fisher, UC Los Angeles’ Graduate Student Association president, told the Nexus. Fisher attributed this sentiment not only to the COLA movement at UCLA but also to the firing of the UCSC graduate students, noting that participation in COLA organizing has “increased exponentially.”
UCLA graduate students voted Monday evening to join the Thursday “blackout” strike.
“I think people are just fed up … the [UCSC] firings brought a lot of attention from people who weren’t really paying attention before,” he said, adding that hundreds of people have attended UCLA COLA rallies.
Fisher, as GSA president, said he presented the UCLA COLA demands to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block on Feb. 21. But beyond that, he said he hasn’t seen much of a response from the chancellor.
“Why is it that it’s the ‘number one public university,’ in the country, [and] the leader of the university won’t come out and publicly address concerns?” Fisher said.
Similar to at Davis, UC San Diego organizers are leaning more toward a grading strike rather than a full strike, according to Syed Muhammad Abbas Yousuf, an ethnic studies doctoral student, and Avaneesh Narla, a physics doctoral student.
The two said that a recent UCSD COLA movement vote showed that around 200 graduate students were willing to strike in some capacity, although there is a “strong leaning toward holding a grading strike rather than a full strike.”
“I think people are just fed up.”
During Week Nine, UCSD graduate students scheduled a number of events aimed at educating undergraduates about the movement and gaining support across campus for the movement; they will be joining the “blackout” strike by holding a walkout around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
UC Berkeley graduate students also voted to join the one-day “blackout” strike, according to Tara Phillips, a UCB COLA organizer. UCB’s strike will last from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sproul Plaza in the center of campus.
The UCB COLA movement also voted Tuesday to create a departmental organizing structure and will begin asking different departments to hold meetings to discuss and vote on strike-readiness, according to a resolution passed by the movement.
“Once we’ve reached 10 strike-ready departments, we will call a General Assembly to vote on strike escalation on our campus,” an email sent to supporters of the UCB COLA movement said.
At UC Riverside, graduate students plan to join the UC-wide “blackout” strike with a rally at 11:45 a.m., according to the movement’s Twitter account.
The movement has also released a petition to the UCR community, asking students to stand in solidarity with the UCSC strike.
While graduates at some campuses are taking steps toward a vote to strike, others, such as UC Irvine, haven’t decided to go on a full strike but are still organizing for a COLA in other ways.
UCI COLA organizers Nalya Rodriguez, a sociology doctoral student, and Courtney Echols, a criminology law and society doctoral student, said that UCI COLA organizing began on Feb. 20, when over 200 UCI graduate students and supporters rallied in solidarity with the UCSC strikers.
In response, UCI put the administration building Aldrich Hall on lockdown. During the rally, campus police arrested UCI alumni Shikera Chamndany after she entered the building while attempting to obtain her transcripts. Chamndany, who was reportedly not involved with the COLA movement or participating in the rally, was “handcuffed and tackled,” the New University reported.
The arrest drew backlash both on campus and across the UC system.
“We firmly believe that this [is] indicative of the anti-Blackness that pervades not just UC Irvine, but the UC system as a whole,” Echols said. She said that the following day, the university put out a campus-wide statement “trying to illustrate that they cared about UCI graduate students.”
“But we know that if they actually cared, they would immediately send these issues of unfair wages and unjust housing costs which disproportionately affect Black and brown students,” she said.
The UCI COLA movement held a sick-out on Monday and Tuesday, during which graduate students called in sick and did not show up to work.
“The average Irvine graduate student spends 43% of their income on rent, and some students report spending as much as 90% of their income on rent here in Irvine,” Rodriguez said.
Along with a COLA, UCI graduate students are demanding that the officer who arrested Chamndany, Sgt. Tricia Harding, be fired, and that the campus police be abolished.
UC Merced UAW 2865 unit chair Anh Diep explained that even though UC Merced is the “cheapest” UC campus in terms of cost of living, students have been supportive of the UCSC graduate student strikers and have begun advocating for administration to address graduate student needs.
“A lot of people think that Merced would be the campus that doesn’t care … since it’s so new and it’s built in the Central Valley where real estate is cheapest,” Diep said.
“But we do feel rent burden here, and we have seen this dramatic increase in the last few years. We’re especially cognizant that the time to act is now, the time to be proactive is now, because we have a chance to stop this in our own city and prevent further rent burden and further rent hikes before it gets as dramatically bad as it has gotten in the other campuses.”
Diep said that UAW 2865 leadership, along with general members, met with UCM Chancellor Nathan Brostrom on March 2 to discuss graduate student struggles, and that they plan to meet sometime next week for a follow-up meeting. Diep emphasized that the discussion focused on broader needs and did not focus on the specific TA contract currently in place.
There has been no formal UC-wide response to the COLA movements to date; organizers across the UC system emphasized that negotiations need to happen through UCOP instead of at individual universities.
The UC Regents filed an Unfair Practices Charge against UAW 2865 on Feb. 24, alleging that the union has failed to take action to end strikes at UCSC. In response, UAW 2865 filed two separate Unfair Practice Charges against the UC; the UAW 2865 bargaining unit also voted on March 3 to hold a union-wide vote whether to go on strike due to unfair labor practices. All union members will vote on this in April.
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the March 5, 2020 print edition of the Daily Nexus.