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Final Grades May Be In Limbo As UC Santa Cruz Grad Student Strike Continues

SANTA CRUZ (KPIX 5) -- Graduate students at UC Santa Cruz are in the second day of a "wildcat strike," an unauthorized work stoppage that began Monday to protest low pay.

At around noon Tuesday, about two dozen students gathered at the quarry in front of the bookstore to hand out flyers, listen to public speakers and raise awareness of their demand of a monthly raise of $1,412. The figure represents their own calculations to provide a "cost of living adjustment," or a COLA.

Carlos Humberto Cruz, one of the student organizers, said about 400 graduate students have now indicated they would be participating in the strike. They refuse to turn in grades by the Dec. 18 deadline.

UCSC grad student strike
UC Santa Cruz students during Day 2 of a "wildcat strike" for better wages (CBS)

The two sides of the protest appear far apart and have yet to met in person. Administrators have sent several emails, according to Cruz.

"It's threatening, it's a lot of threats. That's what we're seeing," said Cruz.

Graduate students working as teaching assistants typically must attend the professor's lectures, read the materials, lead their own sections and grade papers for 60 students or more, according to protest organizers.

The TAs are paid a $2,000 monthly stipend.

"Us getting paid $2,000 to live in a place that charging an average of $1,300, $1,400 in rent, that's crazy," said Cruz, whose TA duties take up about six hours a day, on top of second and third jobs and his own schoolwork.

Scott Hernandez-Jason, UC Santa Cruz spokesperson, said the university respects the graduate students' rights to free expression, but said the strike was "illegal."

"We want to get in a room with graduate students and talk. Talk through how we can support them," said Hernandez-Jason, "We have approximately 1,900 graduate students at UC Santa Cruz. At $1,400 per graduate student, that calculates out over nine months to about $24 million, which is more than our campus budget can bear."

Zia Puig, a doctoral student in womens' studies, had a stern message to administrators who are making six figure salaries.

"That's not my problem. If they hired us, they should've thought about those numbers before," said Puig. "If you can find the money to give yourself that salary, I trust in your amazing talent as a fundraiser to find us the money we need to eat. So thank you."

The strike would impact undergraduate students like Tamara Muradyan, whose grades would be delayed. Muradyan was in support of the students and is OK with waiting.

"Be kind, it's all I can really say. These people are working several jobs to be here," said Muradyan.

UAW 2865, the union representing the teaching assistants, wrote on their Facebook page that it "supports all efforts to improve working and living conditions for graduate and undergraduate student-workers at the University, though, consistent with the contract, UAW 2865 is not organizing this action."

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