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UCSC Grad Students Strike Threatens Year-End Grades

Ashu Shah
Flickr / Creative Commons
UC Santa Cruz

A group of graduate students at the University of California Santa Cruz have gone on strike, protesting a lack of living wages. Grad students teach a large part of the university’s classes and do much of the grading for professors. The group is demanding a cost of living increase of $1,417 per month. They say that their current pay isn’t enough to buy food and other basic needs. Some students claim that up to 70% of their wages go to housing.

Here’s where things get complicated. First, this is a wildcat strike, which means it is in defiance of their union, the United Auto Workers Local 2865. The union cannot take part because it has negotiated a “no strike” clause for the duration of contracts with the UC system. Second, the striking grad students are threatening to withhold grades from classes they teach until their demands are met. According to an ABC 7 report, the Dean of Graduate Studies warned that the grad students are in violation of their contract. He said that academic student employees can't engage in a strike, and withholding grades or deleting them from the system could be in violation of federal law.

The strikers said today on Twitter that they haven’t heard from the administration in two days, and that they've been receiving support from students and staff within UCSC, as well as external groups. Most recently, the union representing staff at Foothill and De Anza colleges wrote a letter of support, stating, "Their struggle is not only rooted in the desire for fair compensation but it is also part of a broader struggle around the status of public education in our society."

December 18th looks to be a likely showdown date between the two sides. That's the day that grades are due.

Christopher was a fellow in the KALW’s Audio Academy class of 2020. He previously interned at NPR. Among other topics, he is interested in reporting on issues of chronic illness, disability, and mental health. Christopher’s background is in film production and social impact strategy. He’s worked with major nonprofits and corporations on developing campaigns that advance social issues.