UC Santa Cruz reinstated 41 graduate student workers on Tuesday, Aug.11 who had been fired in February for their wildcat strike demanding a cost-of-living pay adjustment (COLA). “Wildcat” refers to a labor shutdown conducted without authorization from the representing union and against a no-strike clause. This reinstatement resulted from a settlement between UC Santa Cruz and United Auto Workers Local 2865, the labor union representing the Academic Student Employees (ASE).
UCSC agreed to reinstate students and will be providing them with an additional quarter of funding along with an employment or fellowship guarantee for the next academic year. The settlement further states that UCSC will remove letters of warning records from ASE personnel files and, in exchange, the union will drop the unfair labor practice charges they filed after the university fired the student employees.
Along with the settlement to reinstate the dismissed students, UCSC has also agreed to provide an annual $2500 housing stipend as well as student support packages for all graduate student workers until more housing becomes available.
UAW Local 2865 Northern Vice President Tom Hintze announced in an email that the union is “proud to right the wrong perpetrated by UC on our 41 colleagues who were unfairly terminated. And we look forward to working together as a union to win a cost of living adjustment in the very near future.”
In an announcement to the campus community, UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Provost Lori Kletzer described the deal as “an important step toward rebuilding community trust and moving beyond the discord created by the wildcat strike.”
The statement also argued that the University acted appropriately in terminating the graduate students’ contracts as “ample notice was provided and opportunities to submit grades were offered right up to the deadline.” It also notes that UCSC continued to pay for the health insurance of those who were fired.
Beginning in December of 2019, 233 UCSC graduate student workers engaged in a grading strike and demanded a $1,412 monthly raise to compensate for the high rent and cost of living in Santa Cruz. The workers withheld 12,000 Fall Quarter undergraduate student grades, resulting in about 20 percent of grades not being filed by the entry deadline in mid-December.
In response, UC Santa Cruz filed an ultimatum on Feb. 14 that stated that if the student strikers did not submit the missing grades in a week’s time, they would be released from their positions and would not be offered appointments for Spring Quarter. Some persisted in withholding the grades and UCSC fired 54 graduate students from their teaching positions on Feb. 24.
Support for the graduate students spread to other campuses including UC San Diego. Graduate student members of the COLA UCSD General Assembly voted on Mar. 9 to begin a grading strike in solidarity with the UCSC strikers and their demands.
Many student workers who were fired faced severe circumstances following the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the loss of income and inability to access health insurance.
The strike occurred amidst the California Affordable Housing Crisis, which results from a shortage created by outdated zoning practices and a lack of construction of new housing units to meet growing demand. UAW 2865 claims that across the UC campuses, graduate student workers on average spend between 38 to 60 percent of their pre-tax income on renting costs. By the standards of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, if a family spends more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing, they are considered rent-burdened.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UCSD graduate students voted on April 8 to end their grading strike. The University of California has not signed on to providing the $1,412 a month cost-of-living pay adjustment to the graduate student strikers.
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