UC Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) movements adjusting to COVID-19 concerns

UC Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) movements adjusting to COVID-19 concerns

Photo Credits: AGGIE FILE

UCSC COLA organizers push for a digital picket, movements discuss public safety, concerns about student basic needs

In light of the decision by several UC campuses to cancel in-person finals and instruction to prevent community transmission of COVID-19, organizers of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) movements are transforming their picket lines and discussing next steps. 

Updates from campuses where COLA supporters are in a full work stoppage — UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara are the only UCs on a full wildcat strike. 

UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive announced on Tuesday that all courses, with the exception of laboratory and studio courses, would be taught virtually, and that finals had to be conducted “via alternate means.”

Graduate students at UCSC recently called for UAW (United Auto Workers) 2865 — which represents 19,000 workers across the UC system — to hold a Labor Authorization Strike Vote on March 16, with a UC-wide and union-backed strike beginning March 30. On March 3, UAW 2865 announced it would hold the vote in April. 

The graduate students said they called for an earlier vote because the last day of instruction at UC Berkeley was May 8. 

“For a ULP strike to be effective, it must start long before that date,” they wrote. 

An email from the Graduate Student Association at UCSC sent to UCSC’s public affairs team on Tuesday afternoon said the organizers would begin to concentrate their efforts on a digital picket. They credited this change to both the growing strike and the threat of coronavirus — which they said is making large gatherings more difficult. 

On Monday, supporters of the COLA movement at UCSC switched from a picket that blockaded campus to a rolling picket that occupied campus centers.

“The digital picket means: don’t submit, keep grades off Canvas, don’t hold classes online and undergraduates should submit their assignments directly to their TAs,” the email said. 

The email called the move to online education an “alarming precedent for how the university could function without its workers,” citing years of resistance to online education and its likelihood of diminishing quality of instruction.

“COVID-19 is being used by university administration to assume emergency powers that can profoundly impact the way that academic work is done,” the email said. 

The students behind the UCSC COLA Twitter account said they understood the health concerns but didn’t appreciate the UC using a public safety issue to “normalize online instruction” and “find workarounds after firing 80+ TAs.”

The California Aggie reached out to the UC Office of the President for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

In a statement released early Tuesday afternoon, the UCSB administration said classes will be transferring to remote instruction beginning March 11. The changes will last until the end of April. Adam Kletzer, a doctoral student at UCSB striking for COLA, said the COLA organizers had not yet reached a general consensus on how to respond.

“Safety has to come first,” Kletzer said. “So obviously that’s the priority.”

Updates from campuses where COLA supporters are grade-striking — UC Davis and UC San Diego 

On March 9, UC Davis COLA organizers said on Twitter and Instagram that they were canceling the week’s events due to “public health concerns.”

Among the impacted events was a “day of action” on the Quad planned for March 10. 

A representative from the UC Davis COLA movement said the decision, which came before UC Davis officials announced on March 10 that in-person finals were being canceled, was made due to the general consensus that one of the best ways to eliminate the virus was avoiding large gatherings. 

“Many of us have professors who have cancelled classes […] and some of us have also cancelled our own classes,” the representative said. “Mostly, we are worried about the health of our students and community, and are being extra cautious about this.” 

Graduate students at UC Davis in support of a COLA are currently participating in a grading strike that began Feb. 27.

At UC San Diego, officials said on Monday that all Spring Quarter classes will be held virtually to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

UCSD graduate students supporting a COLA, however, have been participating in a grade strike that began Monday, and the movement has events planned for the rest of the week.

Updates from campuses where COLA movements are gearing up to strike — UC Berkeley and UCLA

UC Berkeley and UCLA graduate supporters of COLA both voted to strike once they received support from 10 departments. On Monday, UC Berkeley announced a strike for March 16, with the support of 15 departments, including Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. 

In-person classes at UC Berkeley are canceled until March 29, according to an announcement made Monday. UCLA will be suspending most in-person classes until April 10, according to a statement released on Tuesday afternoon. 

In response to an inquiry from The Aggie, a representative from the UC Berkeley COLA movement said the movement is currently calling to outright cancel classes, instead of holding them virtually. 

“We are still working on further ways to help our fellow workers strike in these circumstances,” the representative wrote in an email. 

The Urban Planning Department at UCLA, however, still plans to hold a town hall on Wednesday to vote on whether the department should support COLA.

A representative from the UCLA COLA movement echoed the UC Berkeley COLA movement’s sentiment and said a statement would be available once a decision was reached. 

Updates from campuses with burgeoning COLA movements — UC Merced, UC Irvine and UC Riverside 

As of Tuesday afternoon, UC Merced officials said they would not be suspending activity but that they will “continue to monitor and assess the risk of COVID-19 transmission.” 

“Day-to-day organizing is continuing as normal,” said Anh Diep, chair of UAW 2865 at UC Merced, who supports the COLA movement. “However, if the quarantine situation gets worse, we will be adjusting to doing things more remotely.”

The Aggie has reached out to COLA organizers at UC Irvine and UC Riverside for comment. UC Irvine said it would be holding online finals and would be transitioning to holding some online classes in Spring Quarter in the wake of a possible COVID-19 case on campus, according to an article published Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times. The Press-Enterprise reported on Tuesday that UC Riverside will move classes and finals online until April 3.

Some involved in the COLA movement have expressed concerns about the sudden shift to online education and directives for students to return to off-campus residences. 

Cierra Raine Sorin, the president of the Graduate Student Association at UCSB, said in a Twitter thread Tuesday that teaching instructors how to give online classes would double as unpaid labor, and sending students home could potentially spread COVID-19 to elderly and immunocompromised folks.

“Many of our students struggle with food insecurity that they get help with from the UC,” Sorin wrote. “Many queer kids cannot safely go home. People may not have Internet at home and will not be able to participate in online work easily. What are the plans for these folks?”

Written by: Janelle Marie Salanga — campus@theaggie.org