UC Santa Cruz Graduate Students on Strike Receive Termination Letter

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Students picketing and holding a banner in solidarity with the UC Santa Cruz Strike on February 21, 2020
Arlene Banuelos / The Triton

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At least 54 graduate student workers on strike at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) received a letter today notifying them of the university’s intent to dismiss them from their spring quarter teaching assistant (TA) appointments.

Graduate student workers at UCSC went on a wildcat strike withholding grades in December, demanding that administrators meet to negotiate a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to their labor contract. A wildcat strike includes strike actions such as a labor stoppage that are not authorized by union leadership.

“[The intent to dismiss] is based on abandonment of your job responsibilities by failing to submit student grades well past the fall quarter deadline … and failing to follow a directive provided to you from the Interim Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor,” said UCSC Acting Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Quentin Williams in a letter sent to graduate students on strike.

The strike at UCSC escalated into a full work stoppage on February 10 with graduate students refusing to conduct research or hold class and office hours. Hundreds of graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty have joined in a picket at the UCSC entrance. Picketers have been met with police in riot gear, and at least 17 have been arrested.

“We are shocked by [the University of California’s] callousness, and by the violence that so many protesters experienced as they peacefully made the case for a cost of living increase,” said President of UAW Local 2865 Kavitha Iyengar, the union that represents UC academic workers including those who were fired. “Instead of firing TAs who are standing up for a decent standard of living for themselves, [the University of California] must sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate a cost of living increase.”

UC administrators have deemed the strike at UCSC an illegal work stoppage. On February 14, UC President Janet Napolitano released a letter warning academic workers that they had until February 21 to submit withheld grades or be terminated from current or future teaching employment.

“[H]olding undergraduate grades hostage and refusing to carry out contracted teaching responsibilities is the wrong way to go,” wrote Napolitano in an open letter to the UCSC community. “Therefore, participation in the wildcat strike will have consequences, up to and including the termination of existing employment at the University.”

In response to the administration’s deadline, graduate students across the UC system affiliated with COLA, a movement inspired by the action by UCSC graduate students, held demonstrations at multiple campuses in solidarity with UCSC students. Graduate students affiliated with COLA, including UC San Diego, have pledged to withhold Winter Quarter 2020 grades if the university retaliated against graduate students at UCSC.

UCSB graduate students with the COLA campaign began a full strike Thursday refusing to hold class or conduct research, while students at UC Davis began a grading strike refusing to submit grades.

COLA 4 UCSD told The Triton they are waiting for the results from their strike poll before they decide on whether to escalate from actions in solidarity to a grading or work stoppage. COLA 4 UCSD will host a march on Monday in support of students on strike at UCSC. 

The notice sent to graduate students on strikes says that their dismissal is effective March 26, 2020. Graduate students at UCSC are requesting people donate to their gofundme which will be distributed to the collective of strikers for food, action supplies, potential legal fees, and docked pay. 

Mo Al Elew is a Senior Staff Writer for The Triton. You can follow him @SoloMune.

UPDATE: This article was updated with additional details on Friday, February 28 at 10:50pm