Students let their voices be heard Tuesday at UCSC.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz grad students demand increased housing stipend, recognition of UC student researchers union 

In a rally on the UCSC campus Tuesday, graduate students had two main purposes: demand both that UC Santa Cruz administration triple their housing stipend and that the UC system recognize the unionizing of student researchers.  

In a joint effort to demand a quarterly housing stipend and greater stability from UC Santa Cruz and the UC system generally, graduate student workers and student researchers presented a list of demands to university officials at Kerr Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

Graduate students demanded that UCSC increase a one-time annual $2,500 housing stipend, which students earned after a cost of living adjustment campaign and wildcat strikes that occurred before the pandemic, to instead become a quarterly stipend of $2,500.

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Additionally, student researchers, fellows and trainees, who are not represented by a union like teacher assistants, postdoctoral researchers or academic student employees, demanded that the UC system recognize their union. In August, the California Public Employment Relations Board verified that UC student researchers achieved a majority vote to unionize.

Katherine Dale, a Ph.D. student at UCSC, said in her six years at the university she’s been a teaching assistant, a graduate student researcher and a fellow.

“I have done the same research under all three job titles,” she told Lookout on Tuesday at the rally. “The university [system] right now is denying our union for student researchers and fellows, because they say that graduate student researchers and fellows don’t share ‘community of interest’ ... they think that those two groups don’t share, or don’t do the same work.”

Grad students let their sentiments be heard.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

When the student researchers presented their demands on Tuesday at Kerr Hall, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Peter F. Biehl and Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer were there to listen to them.

In a letter addressed to graduate students on Tuesday, Biehl said he supports graduate students and understands why they are demonstrating.

He said in addition to providing the stipend, the university launched several programs aimed at housing, family support and reducing costs.

In the letter, he wrote that the university provided rooms for graduate students at the Best Western Inn, assigned a Slug Support case manager to help grad students obtain emergency funding and provided up to $1,500 for new Ph.D./MFA students transitioning to Santa Cruz, among several other efforts.

Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Peter F. Biehl.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

As for the unionizing effort for student researchers, Biehl wrote, the bid for recognition is a process for the UC system and the responsibility does not fall on the individual campuses.

UC student researchers who are working toward unionization are called Student Researchers United. Dale said student researchers are working to become part of the larger United Auto Workers union but would be negotiating for their own contract. She estimates there are about 750 student researchers at UCSC.

She said student researchers will be holding a town hall regarding next steps on the UCSC campus next Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 5 p.m. at Rachel Carson College in Room 240.

Rallying cry at Kerr Hall.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

UAW 2865 is the union representing more than 19,000 academic student employees in the UC system. The union includes teaching assistants, graduate student instructors, tutors and readers.

UCSC union unit chair Jack Davies helped organize the event Tuesday to support student researchers’ bid for unionizing and demand the quarterly housing stipend. The History of Consciousness Department graduate student said that since the stipend was first given, students have become even more rent-burdened.

Earning about $2,100 after taxes per month, he said, graduate students aren’t earning enough to pay rent in Santa Cruz. On-campus housing for graduate students costs $1,247 for a single room, while the average rent in the city is currently $2,762 for a one-bedroom.