By PAUL GONZALEZ
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITERS
“When was the last time you went to bed hungry, UC Admin?!”
That’s what UCSB graduate students were asking as they gathered at Storke Tower to strike for a pay increase to cover the cost-of-living expenses.
The UCSB strike comes as graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz enter the third week of their “wildcat strike” — a strike organized by unionized workers without union leadership’s authorization.
“Graduate students on strike are not holding their classes and submitting grades due to the (Cost of Living Adjustment) movement across the University of California System,” Micah Pedrick, a third-year graduate student at UCSB, said.
“Additionally, this is to support the ongoing strike at UC Santa Cruz which was the first UC campus to go on strike, as well as the grading strike at UC Davis which begins the same day. Students are demanding higher wages due to rent burden greatly in excess of standards set by the Federal Department Housing and Urban Development,” Mr. Pedrick said.
At noon on Thursday, graduate students and concerned undergraduate students marched on Storke Tower with picket signs reading “COLA 4 ALL,” “STEM 4 COLA” and “No COLA No Class,” among other pro-labor messages.
“Up, up, up with the workers; down, down with the bosses,” chanted the students.
Sociology graduate student Cierra Sorin said the graduate student conditions at UCSC illustrate a bigger problem throughout the University of California system.
“Santa Barbara grads are just as tired of living in poverty and not being able to make ends meet as our colleagues in Santa Cruz are,” said Ms. Sorin, who continued that 200 UCSB graduate students have committed to a full strike and another 200 will participate by not grading exams.
On Feb. 21, graduate students staged a sit-in protest in the school administration building and demanded UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang email University of California President Janet Napolitano and UCSC administrators to call off police violence against graduate students.
Mr. Yang did not agree, but there was no police presence during the UCSB strike rally.
“A lot of us are TAs (teaching assistants), some of us are teaching as instructors of record, there’s also lots of folks that are not teachers, but researchers that are going on strike as well especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics),” said Ms. Sorin.
Sociology graduate students must teach four quarters worth of classes, but many do more.
“When you TA, the university covers your tuition, but if you don’t TA, you have to pay it. That’s how they reel you into TA-ship,” said Sarah Devoto, a Sociology graduate student studying social psychology, gender and race.
Graduate students are only supposed to work 20 hours a week, but during exam season TAs sometimes work double that.
“I’m falling further and further behind in my program because as each quarter progresses we have more students and more responsibilities. I’m putting my research on the back burner and it’s prolonging the amount of time I will be in school,” said Ms. Devoto.
A group of STEM graduate students marched to Storke Tower from a STEM building, followed by a group of professors in ceremonial robes.
English professor Ben Olguin said professors are working to support their graduate student’s demands and some are prepared to strike alongside their students.
“When I was a graduate student at Stanford my last year and a half, I lived in my office because I couldn’t afford it. A lot of students are very thin because they don’t eat a lot. When I see them going on strike, it reminds me of my own experience,” said Mr. Olguin.
Ben Manski, a former attorney and graduate student studying the sociology of law, said the poor wages disproportionately burdens students with families. Mr. Manski said his classes have grown to 90 students per class which increases the workload and lowers the class quality.
“My wife and I are both grad students. We’re in our 40s. We have three children. Our cost of living is substantially higher than it is for a single grad student,” Mr. Manski said. He added that he has taken a second job and thousands in loans to support his family.
“If I didn’t have to work small jobs to get money for conferences and other things I would be able to split between research and teaching,” said Nicole Dib, an English department doctoral candidate.
“As it is, my time can be split even further between that and extra work just to live in Santa Barbara.”