news 4 days ago

UC Santa Cruz grad students strike for higher pay, saying they can't afford rent

Los Angeles Times — Nina Agrawal, Sonali Kohli Los Angeles Times

Feb. 14--At least 17 people were arrested this week and picketing continued Friday as part of a wildcat strike by UC Santa Cruz graduate student workers who are demanding higher pay because they are overburdened by high housing costs.

During the strike, which began Monday, graduate student workers have refused to teach, hold office hours, conduct research or post grades. They are demanding an increase in pay of $1,412 per month to cover their rent.

The average teaching assistant's monthly salary is $2,400 a month. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Cruz is $2,600 a month, according to RentCafe.

Demonstrations were held at the school's main entrance Friday, although no one has been arrested since Wednesday, said UC Santa Cruz spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason.

The arrests came after police said students blocked an intersection near campus and ignored repeated orders to disperse. Police surrounded demonstrators sitting in circles in the intersection with their arms linked and dragged them away one by one.

Those arrested face charges including unlawful assembly, obstructing a public roadway and disobeying a lawful order, Hernandez-Jason said. All but one were cited and released.

"Officers repeatedly tried to de-escalate the situation and made clear that blocking this major roadway had to stop or it would lead to arrest," Hernandez-Jason said in a statement. "Demonstrators locked arms, sat in the roadway, and refused to move back onto the university field."

"While we understand the frustration about housing costs in Santa Cruz, we also have responsibilities to the vast majority of our faculty, staff and students who simply want to do what they came to UC Santa Cruz to do — to study, to teach, and conduct research," a statement from university said.

This week's action follows a grading strike the students undertook in December.

The strike is a so-called wildcat strike, which means it is not endorsed by the union that represents the students. The UC system has a current labor contract with the United Auto Workers that covers all campuses.

Jack Davies, a second-year graduate student in the history of consciousness department and organizer of the graduate students, said roughly 350 students, including at least 200 teaching assistants, were participating in the strike.

Davies said police — including campus police and others from nearby San Francisco and Alameda — faced off against strikers. He said helmeted officers carrying batons and tear gas struck one student, who suffered a concussion, on Monday. On Wednesday another student sustained a concussion and several others had bruises, Davies said.

The university spokesman said that anyone with a complaint about police conduct can submit an online report that the department will review.

"Over the past four days, our officers have been consistently communicating with those participating in this unsanctioned strike," Hernandez-Jason said. "The police department is committed to an individual's lawful exercise of free speech, and officers have only intervened when there was a potential violation of law and/or a risk to the public's safety. We are aware of many unsubstantiated rumors being spread on social media."

In November 2011 university police at UC Davis pepper-sprayed a group of students protesting on campus as part of the Occupy movement. A video of the incident went viral and sparked outrage over the use of the irritant on campus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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