This page was created to provide timely and factual information about recent labor actions involving some of our graduate students. UC is committed to finding solutions to address the housing and cost of living crisis that have sparked their actions.

Sections:

Background

Academic student employees are represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) and have a four-year contract in place that was negotiated by UAW leadership and ratified by thousands of academic student employees across the system in 2018.

A small group of teaching assistants recently went on strike at UC Santa Cruz, refusing to teach undergraduate classes and withholding student grades to protest the rising cost of living and lack of affordable housing in California. The striking students want a cost-of-living adjustment of $1,412 per month, over and above the pay and benefits they currently receive under the collective bargaining agreement, which would be the equivalent of a 60 percent raise. Some graduate students at other UC campuses have also held rallies and other demonstrations in solidarity with the UC Santa Cruz graduate students.

President Napolitano met with UC’s Graduate and Professional Council, which advocates on behalf of all UC graduate and professional students to discuss their concerns. Read the President’s statement.

In addition, UC has reached out on a number of occasions to UAW leaders and members to discuss their concerns and how we might address them in the next UC-UAW contract. Additionally, UC Santa Cruz leaders have met five times with graduate student leadership with the hope of resolving the unauthorized strike and returning to our shared mission of educating undergraduates and conducting research for the good of our society. UC Santa Cruz’s Chancellor Larive recently announced the campus is forming a joint working group to develop appropriate and sustainable graduate student support.

Graduate student salary overview

UC’s academic graduate students work part-time and typically receive total annual funding packages that average $47,000, which include $22,000 in salary (on average), and reimbursements for tuition, health insurance premiums, fellowships and scholarships, and various campus fees. Salaries vary by discipline and location.

The collective bargaining agreement between UC and the UAW covering graduate student employees, which is in effect through June 2022, includes a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) equivalent to other UC workers and provides various additional benefits: Highlights of the agreement include:

  • 100 percent reimbursement of tuition (approximately $13,000 depending on the campus)
  • 100 percent reimbursement of health insurance premiums (approximately $3,000 – $5,000 depending on campus)
  • Annual wage increases of 3 percent over four years (a total wage increase of 12 percent)
  • A child care subsidy of $3,300 per year (to be used at a facility of the employee’s choosing)
  • $300 annually for campus fee remission, to offset any additional fees

You may read the full UC-UAW contract.

Consequences for breaking a collective bargaining agreement

Under a signed collective bargaining agreement, both sides have a legal obligation to honor it — not only for those involved, but out of fairness to the tens of thousands of represented employees systemwide who work at UC. UC has honored, and continues to honor, its commitments under our contract with the UAW, and we expect UAW leadership and our student employees covered by their agreement to do the same.

Striking while a collective bargaining agreement is in place undermines the collective bargaining process and erodes the ability of UC and its unions to enter into good-faith labor agreements. This strike also hurts our undergraduates by disrupting their educational activities and preventing them from advancing to the next course level.

Just as there would be consequences if UC failed to meet its contractual obligations, there are consequences for student employees and the UAW for violating the collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement states “any employee who violates this (no strikes) article shall be subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment.” Disciplinary measures, and how they are implemented, are decided by each campus, consistent with the contract. As campuses make teaching assistant appointments, they can also decide to rescind an appointment or choose not to make an appointment.

Principles guiding UC’s response to the graduate student strike and protests

  • California’s cost-of-living crisis is increasingly problematic for the entire UC community
    These are complex problems that UC is working to address through investments in basic needs support, building more below-market student housing, and lobbying state and federal lawmakers to invest in UC and its graduate and undergraduate students.
  • UC is committed to upholding its collective bargaining agreements with labor unions
    Roughly 96,000 UC employees are represented by unions who have collective bargaining agreements with UC. Allowing some employees to renegotiate a contract that was ratified by thousands of union members and is still in effect undermines the purpose of a signed labor agreement. It’s unfair to our other unionized employees, and it erodes the value of union representation and the power of collective bargaining.
  • Undergraduate students must be able to complete their studies
    Refusing to teach classes and withholding grades harms UC’s undergraduate students. Without grades and the ability to advance to the next course level, undergraduate students must contend with — through no fault of their own — various adverse impacts on their studies, including the loss of financial aid, enrollment difficulties, the ability to declare a major, the ability to apply for graduation, and the ability to receive a transcript.
  • There is a difference between free speech and unauthorized strike activity
    UC is committed to free speech on its campuses and supports the rights of all members of its community to make their views known. But there is a significant difference between public demonstrations of self-expression and actions that directly violate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement and disregard one’s job responsibilities.

UC’s commitment to affordable student housing

UC is acutely aware of the housing challenges our graduate and undergraduate students face. Affordable housing has been a priority for UC and we are making strides systemwide. All UC student housing is below market rate, and we’re building more of it. Since the start of President Napolitano's tenure at UC, more than 17,000 beds have been added. In 2016, UC launched its Student Housing Initiative and is on track to exceed its goal of adding 14,000 beds by fall 2020. Furthermore, we are planning an additional 15,000 beds across the system between 2021 and 2025. Representatives from each of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses met recently with UAW representatives to discuss housing concerns and we are committed to continuing the dialogue. UC is aware that living in Santa Cruz is more expensive than other parts of the country and even other areas in California, and has been working to build more below-market student housing. In the meantime, UC Santa Cruz in January announced it would offer students a $2,500 annual housing supplement to help cover costs.

Striking is unfair to undergraduates; dialogue is the solution

UC is sympathetic to graduate students’ concerns. However, hurting undergraduates by withholding grades and refusing to teach classes is not right and is a clear violation of the UC-UAW collective bargaining agreement. UC believes progress on complex problems such as housing can only be achieved when we work together and engage in meaningful, thoughtful discussion. President Napolitano met with UC’s Graduate and Professional Council, which represents UC graduate and professional students, to discuss their concerns; read the President’s statement. UC also has demonstrated its willingness to meet with UAW leaders and members to discuss members’ concerns and ways to address them in the next UC-UAW contract.

Free speech versus striking

As the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, UC has a long and proud tradition of supporting various forms of free speech and individual expression. The free exchange of ideas is the lifeblood of a university, and free speech has always been a hallmark of a UC education. Nevertheless, there is an important distinction between demonstrations and striking. The UC Santa Cruz strike is unsanctioned by UAW leadership and is inappropriate for multiple reasons. It violates the collective bargaining agreement that was ratified two years ago. It unnecessarily hurts undergraduates who depend on grades to advance their studies. And if UC reopens a contract in this instance, it will undermine the labor agreements between UC and its other unions.

Frequently asked questions

What is UC doing to address the cost of housing for students?

UC is acutely aware of the housing challenges our graduate and undergraduate students face. Affordable housing has been a priority for UC and we are making strides systemwide. All UC student housing is below market rate, and we’re building more of it. Since the start of President Napolitano's tenure at UC, more than 17,000 beds have been added. In 2016, UC launched its Student Housing Initiative and is on track to exceed its goal of adding 14,000 beds by fall 2020. Furthermore, we are planning an additional 15,000 beds across the system between 2021 and 2025. Representatives from each of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses met recently with UAW representatives to discuss housing concerns and we are committed to continuing the dialogue.

I’ve seen this referred to as a “wildcat” strike — what does that mean?

Typically, union leaders are the ones to ask members to strike. A “wildcat” strike means a group of union-represented employees are striking on their own without authorization from union leadership. The UC Santa Cruz wildcat strike violates the “no strikes” provision in the contract between UC and the UAW.

Why are UAW leaders allowing union members to strike if there is a contract in place — don’t they have some responsibility in all of this?

Yes. UAW leadership has a responsibility to ensure its members are abiding by the terms of the contract between the UAW and UC, including honoring the “no strikes” provision (PDF) of the contract which prohibits union members from striking.

Why has UC filed an unfair labor practice against the UAW?

Under a signed labor contract, both sides have a legal obligation to honor their respective commitments outlined in the contract. UC has honored, and continues to honor, its commitments, and the UAW is obligated to do the same, including enforcing the “no strikes” provision (PDF) of the contract which prohibits union members from striking. UC believes union leaders have not done enough to enforce the “no strikes” provision with its members, and therefore filed a formal complaint against the union for not honoring the contract. Furthermore, striking while a collective bargaining agreement is in place undermines our unions and erodes the ability of UC and its unions to enter into good-faith labor agreements.

Graduate students say they are being forced to choose between food and rent. What is UC doing to address this issue?

We are deeply sympathetic to the fact that the cost of living is incredibly high in California — and even more so in the locations of many UC campuses. But punishing undergraduate students by withholding grades and refusing to teach classes is not the right way to solve the problem. UC wants to continue working with its graduate students to find a solution that is fair. UC Santa Cruz leaders have met repeatedly with graduate student leadership about options, and have announced substantive programs to help offset high living costs.

Has UC Santa Cruz fired some teaching assistants for striking?

On February 28, campus leadership distributed a letter to the UC Santa Cruz community explaining the disciplinary actions it took with the students who refused to teach and submit grades.

Is UC trying to bust the union?

The term “union busting” refers to an employer being philosophically opposed to unions and undertaking efforts to either prevent employees from organizing or joining a union, or breaking up (busting) an established union. UC has a long tradition of having union-represented employees in its workforce. Of UC’s more than 225,000 employees, roughly 96,000 are represented by unions. Any UC employee, unionized or not, who refuses to fulfill the responsibilities of their job is subject to disciplinary action. UC Santa Cruz took disciplinary action against the striking graduate students (with multiple advance warnings) because they were refusing to do their jobs, not because they were represented by a union.