SANTA CRUZ — After the third week of picket lines and rallies, UC Santa Cruz postdoctoral fellows, academic researchers, academic student employees and graduate students at the United Auto Workers union and their supporters show no signs of slowing their strike activities.
“I just want to support the people like me who are struggling with the high cost of living,” said graduate student Rebecca Lietz. “I feel it’s important to show up and be here.”
At the entrance to the UCSC campus near Bay Avenue and High Street on Friday, union members and supporters gathered to welcome runners who crossed the finish line of a 5.4K race around the UCSC campus. One of the race’s organizers and teaching assistant, Robin Jones, explained why the race was a 5.4K instead of the traditional 5 kilometers.
“Some people had the idea to organize a 5.4K race for $54,000 a year, which is our requirement for a living wage for graduate students across the UC system so that we don’t have to spend more than 30% of our salary on rent, ” Jones said. “It’s been a fun event to boost morale and raise money for food and other necessities to keep the strike going.”
Union members who participated in the race, such as Madelyn Broome, felt that the race gave the union members who participated a new way to bond with each other.
“We have so much camaraderie here on the front lines, and nothing builds even more camaraderie than suffering with other people,” said Broome, who studies astronomy and astrophysics. “It was really fun to get out there and run with the same people that we’ve been going back and forth with.”
Many of those on the picket lines are community members who don’t belong to the union but want to show their support for their cause, such as artist, activist and recent Santa Cruz mayoral candidate Joy Schendledecker.
“My husband teaches at the university, and we know firsthand what graduate students have to deal with,” Schendledecker said. “As a spouse of a faculty member and as a member of the community, I will support them, even if only to a small degree.”
On Tuesday, the University of California announced tentative agreements with the UAW on new five-year contracts for two bargaining units, UC postdocs and academic researchers, but tentative agreements for the academic student employees and graduate student researchers are still in the works.
“Our dedicated colleagues are essential to UC’s research activities, and we are very pleased to have entered into agreements that respect their many important contributions,” said Letitia Silas, executive director of system-wide labor relations for the University of California in a statement. “These agreements also maintain our tradition of supporting these employees with compensation and benefits packages that are among the best in the country.”
Graduate student director, Kalina Kassadjikova was out at the strike supporting her union colleagues who were fighting for fair wages and better working conditions and did not support the recent tentative agreements reached by the UAW bargaining team. She said a schism had emerged between union members and union negotiators who appeared to be making unnecessary concessions to the university.
“The negotiation is at a very contentious point right now because the negotiating team is removing our core demands without any pressure from the UC,” Kassadjikova said. “To me, the negotiating team members are not doing the job of representing the rank and file.”
For negotiation updates, visit fairucnow.org.