On Thursday, Feb. 27 at approximately 2:15 p.m., students in support of the cost-of-living adjustment movement (COLA) gathered in front of Hinderaker Hall with boxes of pizza, preparing to sit in the hallway of Hinderaker Hall’s fourth floor, the location of the chancellor’s office.
According to UAW 2865, the average salary of UC-employed graduate students is $21,000 per year. Students spend between 38% and 60% of their pre-taxed income on housing costs, according to a 2019 estimate by the union. UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) graduate students, demanding an increase in salary in order to afford housing, have been on an unsanctioned, full-fledged strike as of Feb. 10. The COLA movement gained traction on UC Riverside’s campus as of last week, with a large-scale rally being held in support of the UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) wildcat strike.
Students striking at UCSC, as well as on other UC campuses, have been arrested due to strike participation, threatened by potential job loss and have faced cases of police brutality. The sit-in, according to Margarita Vizcarra, a second-year GSOE graduate student, was aimed to “denounce what the administration of Santa Cruz is doing.”
Approximately 30 students were greeted by Chancellor Kim Wilcox and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brian Haynes at around 2:22 p.m. “We brought the pizza, hoping that you have the COLA,” stated Vizcarra when facing Chancellor Wilcox. “We’re expecting an official letter … saying that you do not agree with the tactics that the institution is using to bring down strikers,” she continued.
In response to Vizcarra, Wilcox explained that it is difficult to engage in the middle of a union relationship. “We have to fully respect the role of the union in negotiating that relationship,” he stated. In response, Vizcarra stated that “union workers are being used as pawns.” After approximately 15 minutes, Vizcarra and other graduate students were able to arrange a meeting with Wilcox to discuss COLA affairs on Friday, Feb. 28 at approximately 2:30 p.m.
In an interview with The Highlander, Wilcox stated, “I applaud their desire to stand with their colleagues at Santa Cruz.” In regards to the UAW negotiations, he explained that, “the negotiations of the contract were over a year ago. The challenge is how do we get to a place where a contract that’s not very old is so far out of the alignment from what the employees thought they needed.”
In 2018, a contract was ratified with the United Automobile Workers (UAW), the union that represents graduate student workers, after graduate students in UCSC presented that the cost of living in the Santa Cruz area exceeds what UCSC graduate students are paid. However, the contract ratification was opposed by more than 80% of UCSC graduate students. “I can’t negotiate the contract … I’m not the authorized negotiator with the union. You need to respect the process,” Wilcox stated
Student protesters continued to sit in front of Wilcox’s office until approximately 6:00 p.m.