UC Berkeley African American studies department graduate students ready to strike if COLA demands not met

Celine Bellegarda/Staff

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UC Berkeley graduate students in the department of African American studies released a letter to Chancellor Carol Christ, claiming they are ready to strike if the administration fails to meet the demands of campus organizers in support of a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, by March 6.  

Campus graduate students from the department released the letter in solidarity with UC Santa Cruz, or UCSC, graduate students. The letter also states their support for UCSC graduate students’ demand for demilitarization of campus police and a COLA.

Jonathan Jacob Moore, a doctoral student in the department, released the letter in a Twitter post with the caption, “black studies at berkeley is strike-ready.

“I speak for myself when I say that I, along with my department peers, am one of many graduate students at Cal who are outraged by the treatment and firing of UCSC workers fighting for a living wage,” Moore said in an email.

After UCSC graduate students began striking, UC Santa Barbara, or UCSB, graduate students also started a work stoppage strike, while UC Davis, or UCD, graduate students began a grade strike. According to the letter, graduate students at the remaining UC campuses have shown support by organizing strikes to prevent retaliation against UCSC strikers and demand a living wage for all graduate students in the UC system.

In the letter, campus graduate students from the department called upon UC Berkeley leadership to lobby the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, to ensure there is no retaliation against striking students at UCD and UCSB and to reinstate the 54 UCSC student workers fired for their dissent.

UCOP spokesperson Andrew Gordon said in an email that while the UC system values graduate students, including academic student employees, the UC system’s teaching mission is in “jeopardy” when students represented by United Auto Workers, or UAW, Local 2865 withhold grades and refuse to teach. He added that by withholding teaching obligations, teaching assistants are also in violation of their current contract.

“The University hopes to continue a dialogue with graduate students to address their concerns,” Gordon said in an email.

In effect since August 2018, a four-year contract between the UC system and UAW Local 2865 includes “fair pay” and “excellent benefits,” according to Gordon. The contract also includes a tuition waiver, an annual wage increase of 3% over four years and an annual $300 campus fee remission, among others. According to Gordon, reopening the contract would be “unfair” to other UC unions that adhere to collective bargaining agreements. 

Until the demands of the UCSC workers are met, campus graduate students of the department are ready for action, according to the letter.

“The University of California’s mission of providing quality education through teaching, research, and public service remains incomplete when the vast majority of its academic labor is not paid a livable wage,” the letter states. “As long as our needs persist, so will our demands. We look forward to your response.”

Contact Marc Escobar at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @mescobar_dc.