Treating workers with respect, dignity and fairness is something that is completely foreign in many nations, especially in the United States. Although there was a massive labor movement that won many concessions in the way of collective bargaining and unity for workers, today over half of the states are blatantly anti-union. This pervasive anti-worker attitude from the government has crept into the University of California (UC) system as well.
From resisting negotiations of a fair contract for the service workers of the UC, to the wildcat strike in UC Santa Cruz (UCSC), the administration loves waging war against labor. Despite the fact that American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees local 3299 (AFSCME 3299) new contract solidified a victory for service workers, the fight for all workers to be treated with fairness and dignity doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.
One would think that, after finally giving AFSCME 3299 a contract, the UC would at last bargain with unions in good faith, but that wasn’t in the cards. In fact, UCSC graduate students facing an astronomical cost of living have gone on strike to demand better pay.
The UCs inability to cooperate with workers is insulting. Unions in the UC system have only asked for basic workplace rights like job security and a living wage. To make matters worse, even though workers have demanded the bare minimum from their employers, UC administrators have stalled and dragged their feet in negotiations. A glaring example of this worker exploitation is the UCSC graduate students.
The housing crisis in Santa Cruz coupled with the campus administration’s complete lack of empathy toward the issue has been crippling to many students and workers on the campus. In fact, the housing crisis in UCSC has gotten so bad that the administration has begged professors to allow students to sleep in extra rooms in their homes.
Unfortunately, this severe housing crisis in Santa Cruz has been especially damaging to the graduate students of UCSC who work as lecturers and TAs on the campus. Against empathy and logic, graduate students in Santa Cruz are paid ridiculously low stipends while the cost of living in the region has shot up to unsustainable amounts.
With stipends of around $17,000 a year, many graduate students are paying around 50 to 60% of their salary to housing alone. For reference, the typical amount one is meant to pay for housing is about 30%. This means that graduate students in UCSC are being paid a paltry sum compared to both their worth and what they actually need to survive.
Not only is it morally wrong to pay employees less than what they need to survive, but with such low stipends undergrad students will suffer as well. Since their TAs are preoccupied with how they will make it through the month, they won’t be able to put as much effort into their lectures and grading. It is especially worth noting that, as graduate students have been embroiled in fighting for a living wage, most chancellors of the UC system make around $400,000 a year.
Fortunately, there is hope. After all this agitation and the injustices with unfair stipends, UCSC graduate students have been fighting back. It began with a grade strike, in which graduate students refused to submit fall quarter grades, with over 12,000 grades having yet to be submitted. These TAs have had enough, and a majority of graduate students in Santa Cruz have gone on strike since Feb. 10. Although UC officials and the chancellor of Santa Cruz have continued to hide behind the fact that the United Auto Workers (UAW) and their TAs already have a contract, there still remains the fact that graduate students in the region do not have a stipend that they can live on.
With such high costs of living for graduate students at UCSC, it is obvious that they need a stipend increase, but the UC has continued to fight them at every step. As a point of maximum pressure, graduate students have gone on an unauthorized strike to finally get fair pay from their employers. Because the strike is unauthorized, this is an incredible act of bravery.
Unfortunately, UCSC’s administration has forced these workers’ hands, primarily because they have refused to pay a decent stipend. This battle for fairness in the UC system is just another chapter in the long story of worker suppression on campus. In fact, just last week alone, over 17 graduate students were arrested in UCSC during the strike.
With a UC system that seems to care more about lining its own pockets instead of providing their workers with a living wage and their students with an affordable education, it is obvious that this greed must be fought. The only way to truly fight against this hostile administration is for workers and students to come together as allies and continue to advocate for their workplace rights.