Santa Cruz Grad-Student Strikers Didn’t Win a Pay Raise, but They Got Their Jobs Back

Full vitae patelucsc 0811 04

Nathan Xavier Osorio, on the picket line in March, is one of dozens of teaching assistants dismissed by the University of California at Santa Cruz as they campaigned for higher pay.

Image:  Noah Berger For The Chronicle

By Vimal Patel

A dispute over a wildcat strike at the University of California at Santa Cruz is over.

The union representing the university’s graduate students announced on Tuesday that 41 students who had been fired will be reinstated, following roughly the same number getting their jobs back after another agreement last month.

The students had been withholding grades to pressure the university to give them a $1,400 monthly cost-of-living adjustment, an amount they said was necessary to live in an extremely expensive city like Santa Cruz. The strike had spread to other University of California campuses.

The union, United Auto Workers 2865, said the outcome was the product of the power of collective labor and “an international outpouring of support.” Indeed, the strike became a cause célèbre for graduate-student activists elsewhere and even received a supportive tweet from Bernie Sanders, then the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Although this is a victory for workers, our struggle isn’t over,” said Veronica Hamilton, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in social psychology and a union representative, in a statement on Tuesday, “The conditions which necessitated COLA remain.”

In an interview she said that the union will continue to argue for a cost-of-living increase through the bargaining process, and also seek to remove student-conduct disciplinary actions related to the strike from the files of activists.

University officials noted that the deal leaves things roughly where they were in January, when officials announced a five-year funding guarantee and a $2,500 housing-stipend increase to respond to concerns about grad-student living costs. The university maintained throughout the strike that it would not negotiate with wildcat strikers, arguing that doing so would violate the collective-bargaining process.

“There is no debate that those who were terminated violated their contract by withholding grades,” said Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Provost Lori Kletzer, in a joint public statement. “These terminations were not unfair or unexpected as ample notice was provided and opportunities to submit grades were offered right up to the deadline — a deadline long after grades were due.”

The new deal, the leaders wrote, is an important step toward moving beyond the discord of the strike. “We recognize that it will take time and continued action to rebuild trust with our community, particularly with those who supported the wildcat strike,” the chancellor and provost wrote. “Our graduate students must thrive if our campus is to succeed in its mission.”

The coronavirus pandemic dampened the activists’ expectations, as the health crisis sucked public attention away from their protest and the physical act of picketing became unsafe. The pandemic also made the lives of the activist strikers even more precarious, making it more attractive to compromise for their jobs.

Vimal Patel covers student life, social mobility, and other topics. Follow him on Twitter @vimalpatel232, or write to him at vimal.patel@chronicle.com.

Join the Conversation

0 Comments

Log In or Sign Up to leave a comment.