Protesters call for cost of living adjustment on Sproul Plaza, at Crossroads dining hall

Lisi Ludwig/Staff

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“COLA 4 All,” “Solidarity with UCSC” and “Eat the Regents” were some of the phrases written on the signs present during a protest Feb. 21, which was staged in solidarity with the UC Santa Cruz, or UCSC, graduate students on strike for a cost of living adjustment, or COLA.

About 500 protesters gathered on Sproul Plaza in support of the graduate student instructors, or GSIs, at UCSC who have been on a full wildcat teaching strike since Feb. 10. The protest, which was organized by Cal COLA: Pay Us More UCB, began at 1 p.m. on Sproul Plaza and moved to the Crossroads dining hall at approximately 2 p.m.

Union members at UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside, UC Davis and UC Merced also demonstrated in solidarity Feb. 21, according to a press release from United Auto Workers, or UAW, Local 2865.

According to campus graduate student Alec Uebersohn, protest attendees included graduate students, undergraduate students and members of other unions, including University Council-American Federation of Teachers, the union that represents UC lecturers and librarians.

“I’m here protesting because all students, graduate students and all workers at the UC deserve to be paid a wage where they can live where they teach,” said campus chemical engineering Ph.D. student Helen Bergstrom, who is also a Cal COLA organizer.

Tara Phillips, a campus comparative literature Ph.D. student, read a letter delivering demands from campus graduate students to campus administrators. As Phillips read the letter line-by-line, protesters repeated each sentence after her.

The letter demands UC administration refrain from retaliating against students on strike, provide a COLA of $2,103 per year for every UC Berkeley graduate student and set up a meeting between the protest organizers and campus Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division Lisa García Bedolla to discuss basic needs.

The letter states that if UC system administration does not formally respond to these demands by March 6, campus graduate students may strike.

According to a statement from UC President Janet Napolitano, graduate students face “distinctive challenges” that may be solved with collaborative work.

“In the interest of pursuing a productive, meaningful dialogue about our shared concerns, I have invited leaders of the UC Graduate and Professional Council to join me for a meeting to discuss issues of importance and impact to graduate students, including cost of living, housing, mental health, training and mentoring, career placement, and childcare, among others,” Napolitano said in the statement.

In response, UAW Local 2865 said in a statement the UC Graduate and Professional Council does not have the authority to bargain on behalf of graduate students. According to the statement, the union is the only “legally authorized collective bargaining organization.”

According to UC Office of the President spokesperson Andrew Gordon, the university does not plan to reopen the contract with UAW Local 2865.

Uebersohn said rent is increasing faster than GSI salaries.

“You can ask any student worker here at the University of California how much of their salary they’re paying on rent and they’ll probably tell you, ‘the vast majority of it,’ ” Uebersohn said. “We can’t keep living like this.”

Campus Ph.D. candidate Marianne Kaletzky spoke at the event and drew parallels between the working conditions of lecturers and graduate students.

Kaletzky added that lecturers and graduate students alike “suffer” from mental health problems and struggle to support their families and undergraduate students.

Michael Burawoy, a campus sociology professor, also spoke at the protest and said he represented the Berkeley Faculty Association, faculty associations across the UC system and the Academic Senate at various UC campuses.

“We support you because you are pivotal to this university, its education mission. These days are, I believe, historic days,” Buroway said during the protest. “How dare I represent all those faculty? The answer is very simple — we all agree.”

At about 2 p.m., protesters flooded Telegraph Avenue and moved into the Crossroads dining hall.

Protesters stayed in Crossroads throughout the afternoon and into the regularly scheduled dinner period. According to campus undergraduate Liza Mamedov, students left Crossroads at about 9 p.m.

Undergraduates decided to “liberate” Crossroads to encourage students to “eat the food that is rightfully theirs,” according to campus undergraduate Giancarlo Tucci-Berube.

“It just came out of a coalition of students who are asking for UC to meet the demands of graduate students asking for a COLA and also to organize and figure out a way to ask for a COLA for ourselves as undergraduates,” Tucci-Berube said.

Crossroads was “proactively” closed for regular services when protesters arrived and began “disrupting service,” according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff. He added that other dining halls remained open during the protest.

Crossroads dining staff declined to comment as of press time. UCPD was not able to be reached as of press time.

According to Mamedov, during the protest, food was donated to Crossroads by the Berkeley Student Cooperative and local restaurants.

Protesters and organizers punctuated the music that was playing with rallies and chants including “Cops off campus, COLA in our bank accounts.”

“Today we’re making our own cost of living adjustment,” read a flyer distributed to students upon entry to Crossroads. “Today we are all here to eat, and we ask you let everyone eat.”

Contact Maya Akkaraju and Eric Rogers at [email protected].