COLA: UAW Brokers Deal with UC to Reinstate UCSC Workers Fired for COLA Strike

United Auto Workers Local 2865 announced that UC Santa Cruz gave student workers who striked for the Cost-of-Living Adjustment the option of being reinstated as University of California workers on March 30, 2020. According to the announcement, the UC system agreed to allow strikers a “Last Chance Agreement” to return to work under the condition that they will not take part in future unauthorized strikes and will submit any currently withheld grades.  

This agreement has come to light as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens the financial stability of many workers. Because they took part in the COLA strikes, many of the over 80 fired graduate student workers do not currently have a source of income during the California State-at-Home Order. In order to support them and ensure they have enough money to weather these troubling times, UAW Local 2865 brokered a deal with the UC system to have them reinstated.

“In the context of a global pandemic and mass joblessness, we felt it was crucial to do everything we could to preserve these jobs,” Kavitha Iyengar, President of UAW Local 2865, said in a statement sent to the UCSD Guardian. “And as Spring Quarter begins, we are pleased to have positive news. Obviously, it is up to each affected individual to choose whether or not to be reinstated, and we respect each person’s choice.” 

In the “Last Chance Agreement,” the UC system agreed that if previously fired students submit currently withheld grades and agree to not be a part of any possible future unauthorized strikes, they will get a Spring appointment as UC workers. Moreover, the UC system agreed to remove all disciplines on file if the strikers come back to work for UCSC and follow the aforementioned stipulations. Earlier in March, UAW Local 2865 was also able to negotiate with the UC system to reinstate health care to all UCSC strikers.

“UCSC will allow these graduate students to continue working towards their advanced degrees, and the university has ensured uninterrupted health insurance coverage by paying for their spring health insurance premiums,” UCSC Director of Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason said to the Guardian in an email. “The campus has no plans to reinstate the spring appointments of academic student employees who at this point continue to withhold fall quarter grade information.”

Although UCSC has denied that they provided any offer since their February update, sources inside UAW Local 2865 said that Iyengar negotiated a deal with the university. According to the UCSC COLA website, administrators informed fired student strikers that they could be reinstated late March, but only gave them a 24-hour window to accept the deal. This has led to only a few fired strikers to accept the deal while others have held back and provided a counter-offer.

According to COLA leaders, “the COLA movement will agree to collectively submit grades under the following term: the removal of all disciplinary measures from student records; a guarantee of full reinstatement for the spring quarter [and for future appointments]; that the administration remove clause E [of the “Last Chance Agreement”]; a guarantee that this offer be expanded to students who are withholding Winter Quarter grades; an expansion of the $2,500 housing supplement; [and] a written commitment to engage in bargaining with UAW 2865 over a Cost of Living Adjustment.”

As explained in UCSC’s statement to the Guardian, about 97 percent of grades have now been submitted for Fall Quarter 2019 and 95 percent for Winter Quarter 2020. Since the advent of the COLA strikes, UCSC has created new programs in an attempt to address the housing crisis. 

“UC Santa Cruz leaders have made numerous good faith efforts to offer solutions and assist our graduate students, including a substantial allocation of new financial support, two temporary housing assistance programs for graduate students, and a joint working group to develop appropriate and sustainable graduate student support,” Hernandez-Jason said. “UC Santa Cruz is also working to build more student housing to further address the situation.”

While the UC system has filed multiple charges against UAW Local 2865, UAW Local 2865 has also submitted multiple Unfair Labor Practice charges against the UC system. Submitted to the Public Employment Relations Board, UAW Local 2865 now awaits for a hearing scheduled in the summer.

“In the meantime, union leadership and membership are organizing towards the possibility of a ULP strike while also evaluating all the options we have right now and how to best use our power to take care of our coworkers and ourselves amid the pandemic,” Alli Carlisle, a UC San Diego UAW Local 2865 Representative said.

In light of the COLA movement and the spread of COVID-19, UAW Local 2865 is now working with state-wide housing coalitions to lobby legislators to have rent-freezes and to suspend all rent and mortgage payments. 

Photo by Joshua Ben-Escher for the UCSD Guardian.

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