SANTA CRUZ (KPIX) -- University of California at Santa Cruz graduate students voted Friday to put their jobs on the line in a face-off with an institution which has not budged in meeting their demands of a cost-of-living pay increase.
"We voted and, in the room, all hands went up to continue the strike," said Veronica Hamilton, UCSC Ph.D student and chair of the student workers union.
The students met Friday night to discuss whether to continue withholding undergraduate grades as part of their strike.
UC president Janet Napolitano threatened that students would lose their jobs in the spring quarter if they failed to submit undergraduate grades by 11:59 Friday night.
Hamilton said the graduate students decided it was worth the risk and voted to continue striking.
"The threat of mass firing was a monstrous move," said Hamilton. "I think we're not surprised when it comes from Janet Napolitano, who was the former director of Homeland Security."
Napolitano on Friday announced through a press release that she was extending an invitation to the UC Graduate and Professional Council to discuss several issues, including cost-of-living and housing.
"As the unit chair for our union she has not reached out to me as far as I know," Hamilton said.
The students are asking for an additional $1,412 a month, as well as a promise of no disciplinary action or retaliation for going on strike along with a promise that undergraduate tuition will not increase.
The strike has gained national attention and support among students in the UC system. Several dozen students were captured on cellphone video taking over a dining hall at UC Berkeley in what they called a solidarity rally.
But the threat of losing their jobs means more than just a financial loss for the UCSC graduate students, they said. For international students like Stefan Young, it means losing the entire opportunity to be at the university.
"It's a big risk for them to fire us," Young said. "We can't pay tuition, we put our visas in jeopardy."
A UCSC spokesperson said in an e-mail that "those who do not turn in withheld grades will not be eligible for a spring teaching appointment" and that "future employment as an academic student employee will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration current disciplinary actions and/or student misconduct."
For now, students say they'll continue to withhold undergraduate grades and continue their strike until the university offers what they say is fair in one of the most expensive areas of the country.
"I think graduate students have been very clear that the end of this strike comes when there is a guarantee of no discipline for participation in the strike," Hamilton said.
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