UC Berkeley graduate students protest in solidarity with UC Santa Cruz wildcat strike

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Campus graduate students gathered on Sproul Plaza on Monday for a “Cal COLA: Pay Us More UCB” protest in solidarity with UC Santa Cruz, or UCSC, graduate students who are demanding a wage increase that reflects the cost of living in Santa Cruz.

The “Pay Us More UCSC” movement is demanding a $1,412 a month wage increase as a cost of living adjustment, or COLA. The current contract for student workers includes a 3% increase per year to reflect the cost of living, but students say this is not enough. Students supporting the UCSC COLA campaign have been striking since Dec. 9 without the union leadership’s authorization and are withholding grades until they receive the wage increase.

“Since the contract is statewide, our salaries are the same across the board in all 10 UC campuses, but the cost of rent and the cost of living is drastically different at different campuses,” said Yulia Gilichinskaya, an organizer of the UCSC COLA campaign.

After going through the “appropriate channels,” according to Gilichinskaya, UCSC graduate students feel that the opportunities for negotiations for their next contract have been exhausted and that their only option is to strike.

According to the UCSC website, UCSC is unable to provide the funds, as it would be a change to the terms and conditions of employment while graduate students are under contract. The website also alleges that the strike is illegal, as the current contract does not allow student workers to strike.

“There is a huge amount of stress every day of not knowing where you’re going to get your food or where you will sleep that night,” said Jane Komori, a UCSC doctoral student and strike organizer. “That huge amount of pressure makes it hard to provide the quality of teaching support we want to provide for our students.”

Juliet Kunkel, a campus doctoral candidate who spoke at the UC Berkeley protest, said along with the increased stress due to housing and food insecurity, low wages can mean lower quality teaching and more time in school. Kunkel said because she has to work multiple jobs, she has less time and energy to dedicate to teaching and finishing her dissertation.

Given the high cost of living and rent in Berkeley as well, Shannon Ikebe, a campus doctoral student and member of Cal COLA, said UC Berkeley graduate students have begun to build their own movement. He added that the protest was a way to kick-start the movement at UC Berkeley.

While Cal COLA is not currently on strike, Ikebe said the members plan to bring their own demands to campus administration this spring.

“UC Santa Cruz is showing the way for all of us on how to fight for what we want,” Ikebe said. “If we have a similar level of depth as what Santa Cruz has, I’m sure we will be able to transform our campus — and that’s what we plan to do.”

Maria Young is a student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.