Photo Credits: SHEREEN LEE / AGGIE FILE
UC files unfair labor practices claim with state against union, UAW Local 2965 files counterclaim against UC
Fifty-four graduate students at UC Santa Cruz who are part of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) movement were notified on Feb. 28 that they will either not receive Spring Quarter appointments or that they will be dismissed from appointments for spring if they have received an appointment.
This notice came in the form of a Notice of Intent to Dismiss.
Over 30 other graduate students reportedly also received a one-sentence email letting them know they would no longer be under consideration for or receive appointment to teaching assistant, graduate student instructor, tutor or reader positions for Spring Quarter.
These actions come on the heels of the continued withholding of Fall Quarter grades by graduate students participating in the COLA movement through Feb. 27 — a date designated by UCSC External Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer. Kletzer had previously said the administration would check if grades were submitted by Feb. 27 and, if they were not, consequences — possibly including termination — would be enforced. That date was originally set for Feb. 21, but it was extended to Feb. 27.
“We have been left with no choice but to take an action that we had truly and deeply hoped to avoid,” Kletzer wrote in a Feb. 28 email to the UCSC community.
The COLA movement began in November as graduate students became increasingly frustrated with their attempts to negotiate with UCSC administration. In December, some graduate students went on a grading strike without the permission of their union, United Auto Workers (UAW) 2865. It escalated on Feb. 10, when strikers stopped all university labor. Graduate students supporting a COLA at UC Santa Barbara are now on their own full strike, as of Feb. 27.
The UC filed an unfair labor practice charge against the graduate students’ union on Feb. 26, alleging that the union supported the graduate students’ strike. UAW 2865 responded in a statement, saying that the strike was not organized by the union or authorized by a vote of union members, and that the UC’s charges were “duplicitous.”
UAW 2865 then filed its own unfair labor practice charge against the UC on Feb. 27 that said the UC refused to meet with the union to negotiate a COLA, instead trying to engage in “unlawful” bargaining with individual graduate students and university-funded organizations, such as the UC Graduate and Professional Council (UCGPC).
UCGPC refused Napolitano’s Feb. 21 offer to meet to negotiate a COLA in a Feb. 22 statement. According to UCGPC’s president, Connor Strobel, UCSC is the only UC that has not ratified the UCGPC charter, leaving the university without a representative on the UCGPC board.
“Despite UCSC electing not to have a board member, we remain committed to amplifying the concerns of graduate students at every campus,” Strobel said.
UAW 2865’s president, Kavitha Iyengar, said in a Feb. 28 statement that the union stood in solidarity with those terminated at UCSC.
“The union will keep demanding that UC come to the table and bargain to provide a cost of living adjustment for 19,000 ASEs,” Iyengar said. “And we will keep organizing, keep holding actions, and keep speaking up until all of us are paid fairly for our work.”
Calls for action have been increasing on other campuses. Polls to gauge graduate student support of a wildcat strike at UC San Diego, UC Irvine and UC Berkeley have begun circulating as of Feb. 26. International colleges, unions and professional associations have also expressed support and solidarity for the movement. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), in a Feb. 28 tweet, called the firings “disgraceful” and called for Janet Napolitano and UCSC to “stop this outrageous union busting and negotiate in good faith.”
Undergraduate support for the strikers at UCSC, however, has diminished.
Though striker Angie Sijun Lou, a literature graduate student at UCSC, called the undergraduates at Santa Cruz the “backbone of the movement” in a previous interview with The California Aggie, the disruption of a computer science midterm on Feb. 27 caused undergraduates on Reddit to express their anger and frustration.
“Our intent was to invite STEM students, many of whom have been hesitant to join the picket line, to learn about the history of radical activism at UCSC,” a representative from UCSC’s COLA movement said about the disruption on Reddit. “We hope you will engage with us to help us learn from and repair this misstep, and do better in the future.”
The representative also said that the disruption, which reportedly lasted around 10 minutes, was led by an “undergraduate ally” of the movement and that those who disrupted “did not know there was a midterm beforehand.”
UCSC STEM graduate students published a Feb. 29 statement on the firings, calling themselves “disgusted” and “enraged” at the administration’s decision and “de-facto deportation of striking international graduate students.”
As of writing, their statement said at least 212 STEM graduate students in eight STEM departments have pledged to refuse teaching assistantships in Spring Quarter in the wake of the strikers’ dismissal.
“Instead of firing the people who dedicate their lives to the mission of education and research at UCSC, we demand that you resolve this strike,” the graduate students behind the statement wrote.
Graduate students supporting a COLA at UC Davis began their own wildcat grading strike on Feb. 27. They are withholding Winter Quarter grades except under select circumstances.
In an email Feb. 29 responding to an inquiry from The California Aggie, Melissa Lutz-Blouin, the UC Davis Director of News and Media Relations, said the administration has made no formal commitments at this time with regard to the movement’s demands.
UC Davis Provost Ralph Hexter sent a letter on Feb. 27 to the graduate community at UC Davis reminding them that “UC Davis graduate students are a valued and integral part of the university community” and that under their UAW 2865 contract, they could not engage in “any activity that directly or indirectly interferes with university operations while their contract was in place.”
In response, the UC Davis graduate students behind the COLA movement published a statement on Twitter that said they would strike until their demands were met.
“Their [the administration’s] letter today merely another confirmation: the university does not care about us,” the statement said. “Instead of hindering undergraduates, this grade strike reminds us that this is our university.”
Written by: Janelle Marie Salanga — firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include additional information released after the initial time of publication.