Commentary: UC Escalates Crisis by Handling of Strike


UC Santa Cruz Situation Troubling – It Could Happen Here

Images of police in full riot gear clashing with otherwise peaceful UC Santa Cruz students perhaps conjures up memories of nearly a decade ago where the eyes of the world were focused on UC Davis and the pepper spray incident.

As many described the scene, striking students were met with batons and armed police rather than with UC administration.

One student, captured in photos, was trying to deliver water to the picket line. They were assaulted and diagnosed with a concussion.

As a letter from the UPTE-CWA Local 6 executive board made clear: “UC Santa Cruz students are protesting low wages in a community that has one of the highest rental costs in the country. The students have been peacefully assembling to force UC administration to negotiate with them for a cost of living increase to offset the high rents and other living costs in Santa Cruz. The high cost of rent in Santa Cruz has been an issue for decades and UC administration has failed to address the situation adequately despite their admitted awareness of the problem.”

UC then badly mishandled the situation by firing 54 teaching assistants when they refused to turn in final fall grades as part of an ongoing strike for higher wages. The number is now 74 TAs that have been fired or barred from spring appointments for their refusal to end the strike.

“It is extremely disappointing to us that we have to take such a drastic step, but we ultimately cannot retain graduate students as teaching assistants who will not fulfill their responsibilities,” Lori G. Kletzer, the school’s interim campus provost and executive vice chancellor, wrote in a letter to students and staff on Friday.

The students fired back, holding a Monday press conference and rally, reportedly attended by at least 100 supporters.

Dylan Davis, as reported in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, a politics doctoral student, said, “Many of us are putting everything on the line to be here—not because we have so much to lose but because there is so much to be gained.

“Things have gotten so bad here because a fight like this has not happened in decades,” he added, with his pregnant wife, a literature doctoral student, next to him.

At the core of the issue is the cost of living.  Graduate students have taken part in this wildcat strike in part because they insist that, without an increase in the amount of money they receive, they are unable to afford the cost of living in Santa Cruz.

As we learned last week talking to ASUCD leaders in Davism similar problems are brewing in Davis as well.

In a press release received last week, Davis graduate students announced they too began a grade strike for the winter quarter to demand a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) and to call on the University of California to rescind its threats of retaliation against wildcat strikers at UC Santa Cruz.

UC Santa Barbara graduate students took the next step and voted to launch a full strike starting Thursday.

According to a report compiled by UAW 2865, UC Davis Academic Student Employees (ASEs) require a COLA of $1,553.20 per month to be relieved of rent burden.

But UC is playing hardball here, rather than understanding that they have a crisis —partially of their own making, and partially as a result of the state housing crisis.

Instead of attempting to figure out a way to address the problem, student protesters were met last week with force from the police and resistance from administration.

Janet Napolitano announced that she would not accede to the student’s demands because it would “undercut the very foundation of an agreement negotiated in good faith” by the union.

“We are sympathetic to the high cost of housing in Santa Cruz and the pressure this puts on TAs, but a wildcat strike is not the way to get relief,” Ms. Napolitano said in a letter to students.

UC did make a counter offer, a housing supplement of $2500 per year, contingent upon the end to a work stoppage and a partial non-retaliation agreement.  But the students believe that amount, a little over $200 per month, is inadequate to meet their needs created by increasing rent and other costs.

The strike and UC response once again punctuates the housing crisis on and off campus.

We pointed out in our Sunday column the problem of the high cost of housing coming home to roost for UC. And that’s the real problem. The incident has happened in Santa Cruz, but it could happen anywhere.

Remember, we were supposed to solve the student housing problem with on-campus housing—even as the Vanguard pointed out that that housing was quite a bit higher than off-campus.

And yet the solution put in place created about 13,000 new beds, but more than two-thirds of those were on campus.

Adam Hatefi points out: “For one bed in a three-bed dorm room, it is more expensive right now than doubling up in a room in an apartment in the city of Davis. That makes no sense.”

Indeed, but that’s where we are and now we have UC firing students rather than addressing the actual problem.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “Commentary: UC Escalates Crisis by Handling of Strike”

  1. Alan Miller

    Images of police in full riot gear clashing with otherwise peaceful UC Santa Cruz students

    I think Janet Napolitano is in danger of becoming the next Linda Katehi.

  2. Alan Miller

    For those not in the know, “grade withholding” is a form of protest, whereby grad students do all the work and hold classes and create a grade for students, who can access their grades verbally, but the graduate students do not submit the grades into the UC computer system.

  3. Matt Williams

    Arguably UCD doesn’t have the unrestricted fiscal resources to be able to solve the on-campus housing affordability problem.  Arguably the UC Office of the President doesn’t have the resources either.  In my personal opinion, any commitment to greater housing affordability at UCD (and at all the other UCs as well) is going to have to come from Gavin Newsom.  In November 2019 the Sacrameno Bee front page headline read “California is on track for a $7 billion budget surplus. Where will the money go?

    Newsom may be waiting for today’s election results to see how well Bernie Sanders does, given Sanders’ commitment to affordable higher education.

    1. Alan Miller

      Arguably UCD doesn’t have the unrestricted fiscal resources to be able to solve the on-campus housing affordability problem.

      They do with unlimited Bernie Money!

  4. Alan Miller

    Special election night message from Alan Miller – 23 minutes to go, get down to the polls and vote!

    I know everyone wants to know how Alan Miller is going to vote so they can vote likewise.  Simply put:  vote against everything and against everybody!

    Thank you and good night.

    Brought to you by the committee to elect Alan Miller for City Council ’20.

    1. Bill Marshall

      You are a mean person, Alan P… unfortunately you have a terrible influence on folk… we had a slug of folk coming in between 7:38 and 7:53 [that’s on your shoulders, in MHO!]… most were conditional/provisional voters, which require special handling, and we were a pollworker short… the three of us are all verifiable “seniors”, and we’d been on the job since 6:00 AM, and had only very short breaks, and most of those involved ‘plumbing’!

      Good news from your perspective, Alan… every eligible voter who didn’t vote, effectively ‘voted’ against everything and everybody… until the State adopts the “None of the Above” option (which I favor), hard to vote against a person, unless you vote for someone who has only a “snowball’s chance” in %*&& in a 3 or more person race.

      We’ll have the opportunity again in about 8 months…

        1. Bill Marshall


          Yes, Mr Alan Miller … still recovering from the physical aspects of working the polls for nearly 16 hours yesterday, and it may have affected some of my brain synapses… mea culpa… good catch…

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