On Friday, Feb. 21 at approximately 11:30 a.m., students rallied around the UCR Bell Tower to stand in solidarity with the UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) wildcat strike and in support of “COLA,” or cost of living adjustment.
Teaching assistant (TA) salaries, determined by UC-wide UAW 2865 contract negotiations, provide TAs with equal pay in every UC. In 2018, a contract was ratified with the United Automobile Workers (UAW), a union that has represented graduate students in the UC system, after graduate students in UCSC outlined the cost of living in Santa Cruz and presented that the cost of living in the Santa Cruz area exceeds what UCSC graduate students are paid. However, more than 80% of UCSC graduate students opposed the ratification of the contract. In December of 2019, many TAs withheld fall 2019 grades from undergraduates and began to strike, and UC President Janet Napolitano issued an ultimatum on Feb. 14 in response, threatening consequences for striking. UCSC Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer issued an ultimatum on Feb. 14 as well, threatening job loss. Since Feb. 10, UCSC graduate students have been on an unsanctioned, full-fledged strike. Other UC graduate students have also striked in support of UCSC students; UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) began to strike as early as January.
According to Margarita Vizcarra, a second-year GSOE graduate student, the rally was held “in collaboration between independent graduate students and members from UAW 2065,” the union that represents graduate students. With the rally attracting between 80-100 undergraduate and graduate students alike, many came prepared with signs adorning phrases such as “housing is a human right,” and throughout the rally, protesters chanted “who runs the UC? We run the UC.”
A petition to “communicate opposition to the threats to graduate student strikers” addressed to Chancellor Kim Wilcox was being signed at a table set up by rally organizers. In response to the ultimatum issued by President Napolitano, Vizcarra stated that “the message also sets a precedent for graduate students on (our) campus,” and it implies that “we are disposable to the institution.” The ralliers, the majority of which were undergraduate students, stood in support of the demands of graduate students. ASUCR President Pro Tempore Miguel Ramirez, an attendee of the rally, stated that it “doesn’t make sense why a public institution is acting like a corrupt, private institution.” CHASS Senator Yosaline Gutierrez, another attendee of rally, stated that “my TAs have been vital to my success here at UCR. In fact, they teach my peers and I far more than my professors do, so it’s important to stand in support of them.”
The rally, according to Jonathan Coch, a UAW organizer, was intentionally held on the same day that UC Santa Cruz administrations stated they would hand down discipline to strikers, as well as the same day that UCLA and UC Berkeley also hosted rallies. “We want to tell the university that we don’t want our coworkers to have action against them,” he stated. Speakers were also invited to the rally to provide their insight. Amanda Riggle, a second-year English doctoral candidate, addressed the crowd stating that “UCR knows we’re underpaid. They look the other way if we go against our contracts and get a second job, rather than paying us more.” Jared Anderson-Huxley, a third-year biology doctoral candidate, stated that some graduate students “sell their blood plasma because they can’t afford to live in Riverside.” The last speaker, Somchate Wasantwisut, a second-year chemical and environmental engineering doctoral candidate, expressed that “as an international student, my colleagues are at risk of deportation if they strike. We can’t file employment outside of our university due to our visa status.”
After various chants from attendees, at approximately 12:10 p.m., protesters began to march toward Hinderaker Hall to hand Chancellor Wilcox the petition they had signed.
Upon reaching Hinderaker Hall, Chancellor Kim Wilcox and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brian Haynes stood at the steps anticipating rally participants. When handed the petition, protesters asked him what he would do to “stop disciplinary action against UCSC graduate students striking.” Wilcox responded, stating that he will “bring up these concerns to UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive again” and thanked the protesters for the petition. Cynthia Larive, the newest Chancellor of UCSC, was approved of her position on May 16, 2019 after being the provost and executive vice chancellor at UCR since 2017. When asked “do you support your students?” by one of the protesters, Chancellor Wilcox and Haynes turned away and walked back into Hinderaker Hall.
In an interview with The Highlander, Chancellor Wilcox stated that “I applaud the passion that our students have for their colleagues at other campuses. This is a situation where the graduate students have organized with union leadership and bargained a contract and both sides agreed to the terms, which is being implemented. The desire now is to break that contract.” Wilcox stated that a technical discussion is underway but it’s not a simple conversation to have. He also stated that Riverside is fortunate because it doesn’t have the same housing issue. Haynes stated that “as the Chancellor mentioned, it’s a complex set of issues. We support and appreciate the passion of students here today.”
In response to Chancellor Wilcox’s statements, Daniel Collister, a fifth-year mathematics doctoral and unit chair of the UAW, stated that “he gave a very tactful response (but) he didn’t answer the basic question of if he’s going to support stopping retaliation against the students at UC Santa Cruz.” The rally officially ended at approximately 1:00 p.m., after protesters wrote slogans in chalk, supporting COLA and UCSC graduate students on the ground in front of Hinderaker Hall.
“We only had two days to plan the rally, starting Wednesday morning,” stated Yajaira Calderon, a first-year doctoral candidate in the Education, Society & Culture program under the Graduate School of Education. She stated, “UC Riverside is the last UC to join the COLA movement, but it’s clear that the institution paid attention to us and this is just the beginning of many more rallies to come.”