Striking for COLA
By Colleen Flaherty February 11, 2020
Graduate student workers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, escalated their ongoing grade strike to a general strike Monday, saying they can’t afford to live where they’ve been recruited to work and study.
Hundreds of students gathered on campus throughout the day for rallies, talks and solidarity. Faculty members and undergraduates visited to offer support. Graduate students don’t know how long they’ll keep agitating, but they’re prepared for a fight.
“We organized for a local rent control measure that failed, and we’ve worked very hard to support the university, but now it’s time for the administration to work hard to support us,” said Yulia Gilichinskaya, a graduate assistant in film and digital media studies at Santa Cruz.
Graduate student instructors, readers and graders across the university system — from inland Merced down to San Diego — all get about $2,400, pre-tax, per month for nine months out of the year, based on their United Auto Workers-affiliated union contract. While the deal passed statewide last summer, Santa Cruz students voted down it down by 83 percent and have been looking for ways to address their specific cost-of-living concerns since. Now they are protesting for $1,400 more per month.
California is an expensive place to live in general, but Santa Cruz residents face one of the tightest, most expensive housing markets in the country. Many graduate students have a horror story about trying to find a place to rent and a worse one about trying to pay for what space they eventually find.
To change that, Santa Cruz graduate assistants are now seeking a campus-based increase in pay — what they call a cost-of-living adjustment. Their calculations suggest that the extra $1,400 would enable many of them to spend a relatively reasonable 30 percent of their pay on rent, instead of the 50 percent or more many spend now.