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UC Davis grad student Beshara Kehdi rallies march participants on a blustery Monday on campus. Caleb Hampton/Enterprise photo

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UCD students back UCSC strike

Grad students join coalition demanding a cost-of-living salary adjustment

UC Davis graduate student employees rallied on campus Monday, joining workers from across the University of California system in demanding a salary increase on par with the cost of living. Rallies were held on several campuses in solidarity with student workers at UC Santa Cruz, who began an indefinite strike this week after telling administrators they had reached a breaking point.

“We shouldn’t have to live this way,” UC Santa Cruz Ph.D. student and union chair Veronica Hamilton . The student employees at UC Santa Cruz are demanding a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, worth $1,412 per month. The general strike began after with campus administrators.

Since December, UCSC teaching assistants have refused to submit grades for undergraduate courses they taught last quarter, totally about 12,000 missing grades, according to a spokesperson for the striking students. Roughly half of UCSC’s 800 teaching assistants are now on strike, withholding all teaching and grading.

365体育滚球“We have the capacity to bring this university to a grinding halt,” the UCSC COLA campaign said in a Tuesday.

365体育滚球The action — called a wildcat strike because it has not been authorized by UAW 2865, the union that represents UC student employees — violates a no-strike clause in the student workers’ collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated with the university in August 2018.

The contract between UC and UAW 2865, which goes through June 2022, included a 3-percent salary increase, setting wages for teaching assistants system-wide at around $2,400 per month before taxes for half-time employees. Fifty-eight percent of the union’s membership voted to ratify the contract.

UC Santa Cruz was the only campus whose workers opposed the 2018 contract by a wide margin. More than 80 percent of UCSC union members voted against it.

As support for the strike broadened this week, union leaders asked the university to renegotiate the contract. The UAW 2865 Executive Board delivered a letter to UC Labor Relations director Peter Chester, saying that “skyrocketing rents” and the recent failure of California’s Proposition 10, which would have introduced some rent-control measures, had pushed students beyond their limits.

“We believe the circumstances have changed to such a degree as to necessitate immediate bargaining over this important issue,” UAW 2865 president Kavitha Iyengar wrote.

UAW 2865 has yet to formally authorize the strike, which would require the action be approved by a two-thirds vote of the union’s 19,000 student employee members.

365体育滚球UC Davis student-teachers march across campus Tuesday in support of striking colleagues in UC Santa Cruz. Caleb Hampton/Enterprise photo

A growing movement

“Homeless workers, that’s not cool! Eat the rich! Fund our schools!” UC Davis students chanted as they marched from the Memorial Union to Mrak Hall on Monday.

The student employees said they rallied to express solidarity with the workers on strike at UC Santa Cruz and to get a movement of their own off the ground. “We’re here to make a ruckus,” said Kirin Rajagopalan, a Ph.D. student at UC Davis who helped organize the rally. “As graduate students, we’re not paid enough to live. We struggle paying rent and we struggle buying groceries.”

According to , UC Davis students paid an average of $1,003 per month on rent in fall 2019, a 5.5-percent increase from 2018. “The majority of our pay goes to just trying to have a shelter over us,” said Beshara Kehdi, a Ph.D. student at UC Davis, who pointed out that many graduate students have families to care for.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines anyone paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent as cost-burdened. Renters who are cost-burdened “may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care,” the department says.

365体育滚球COLA campaign leaders said the $1,412 salary adjustment UCSC employees are demanding is the amount needed to relieve student workers from cost burden in Santa Cruz, one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. The adjustment would represent a salary increase of nearly 60 percent.

According to a by the Apartment List, nearly half of renters nationwide, and more than 55 percent of renters in California, were cost-burdened in 2017. found that nearly 30 percent of California renters were severely cost burdened, meaning they spent more than half their income on housing.

The group of UC Davis students demanding a wage adjustment said their campaign is still determining its next steps. “We have to try to make it known that this isn’t a normal thing where we’re just supposed to suffer for two, three, four, five, eight years while we’re here,” UCD student Beshara Kehdi said. “We are fighting for a decent kind of living.”

University holding its ground

365体育滚球UC Office of the President media relations director Andrew Gordon said in a statement Tuesday that the university is open to discussing ways to improve housing affordability with student employees, but has no intention of revisiting the prevailing contract with the union. “As part of our contract, UC expects teaching assistants, readers and tutors to perform their jobs,” Gordon said.

Student workers and administrators each appeared determined to harden their stance. “It is our obligation and duty to take the necessary steps to ensure that undergraduate instruction is not disrupted,” Gordon said. “Employees who participate in an unauthorized wildcat strike, which violates the agreement’s no strikes clause, may be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal from employment.”

On Monday, UC Santa Cruz deployed campus police to the school’s entrance, where hundreds of students had gathered to form a picket line. According to a spokesperson for the UCSC COLA campaign, police struck multiple students with batons and hospitalized another student, who was reportedly diagnosed with a concussion at the campus health center. The UCSC Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

— Reach Caleb Hampton at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @calebmhampton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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