Around 150 UC San Diego demonstrators from the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) campaign led a walkout today at 11:00 a.m. in response to threats from UC administrators to fire striking graduate student workers at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC).
UCSD 4 COLA is a part of a systemwide coalition demanding that UC administrators negotiate with academic student workers for increased pay to cover the cost of living. Students affiliated with the COLA coalition and in support of the strike at UCSC held similar actions today, refusing to hold class or conduct research at UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, UC Merced, and UC Irvine.
The campaign for COLA is inspired by the actions of graduate student workers at UCSC who went on strike in December, withholding grades and demanding that administrators meet to negotiate a COLA. The strike at UCSC escalated last Monday with several hundred graduate students, undergraduate students, and staff joining together to picket, refusing to conduct research or hold class and office hours.
UC administrators have deemed the strike at UC Santa Cruz an illegal work stoppage. Last Friday, after a week of striking at UCSC, UC President Janet Napolitano released a letter warning academic workers that they have 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.”
Graduate students at UCSD with the COLA campaign announced that, along with hundreds of other graduate students across the UC system, they will withhold final grades for the quarter if the UC system retaliates against UCSC graduate students for going on strike.
During the picket at UCSD, students posted a letter on the Chancellor’s office door, temporarily disrupted traffic at the entrance to Gilman Parking Structure, and shared why they are fighting for a COLA.
Graduate students emphasized that their high rent burden is an overriding reason why they need a COLA. An “acceptable” rent is often considered to be at most 30% of total income by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Based on the income for a teaching assistant on a 50% appointment, many graduate students are paying at least 42% of their total income on rent.
Two graduate students shared that they accrued significant credit card debt to afford moving to and living in San Diego for their program. One international graduate student shared that she is living in on-campus emergency housing because she was unable to find housing in San Diego due to a lack of a financial history.
“You have no credit score, no rental history, no reference, no anything, so landowners do not feel like you are a trustworthy person,” said one of the international students who spoke about why she is fighting for a COLA. “So if the university does not offer you on-campus housing, you’re pretty much, well, screwed.”
The COLA campaign will turn out to the Housing, Dining, Hospitality (HDH) Graduate & Family Housing Advisory Committee at the HDH administrative offices Monday at 3:00 p.m. COLA will also hold its first General Assembly meeting at the Sun God statue on Wednesday at 12:00 p.m.
Mo Al Elew is a senior staff writer for The Triton. You can follow him @SoloMune.