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UC Santa Cruz Grad Students Strike For Higher Pay As Housing Costs Skyrocket

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

On the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz, hundreds of graduate students and their supporters have been picketing the school's main entrance all week. Graduate teaching assistants are on strike for higher pay. More than a dozen demonstrators have been arrested so far. From member station KAZU, Erika Mahoney reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Who runs the UC?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We run the UC.

ERIKA MAHONEY, BYLINE: As police officers dressed in riot gear stood nearby, hundreds of protesters holding signs marched and chanted this week. Tensions have been rising, and at one point, demonstrators linked arms and sat in a roadway.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Cops off campus.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Cops off campus.

MAHONEY: Graduate student teaching assistants, or TAs, are calling for higher pay to cope with the city's high cost of living. Veronica Hamilton is a Ph.D. student in psychology and a TA. She says her workdays tend to be 12 hours long, juggling her own studies between instructing labs, holding office hours and grading.

VERONICA HAMILTON: We make about $20,000 a year. And in Santa Cruz, it doesn't go very far.

MAHONEY: TAs get their tuition waived. Still, Hamilton says their pay isn't enough to cover housing. The median rent in coastal Santa Cruz is currently over $3,000 a month, according to Zillow.

HAMILTON: And we just need the administration to prioritize graduate student needs so people aren't homeless.

MAHONEY: They want an additional $1,400 a month. In an email this week, UC Santa Cruz spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason said the school has no authority to separately change the grad students' labor contract because it's uniform for all UC schools. As such, the grad students union hasn't authorized this strike. TAs have support from some undergrads and faculty members. Art history professor T.J. Demos joined the picket lines.

T J DEMOS: It's about a labor issue. It's about their pay. It's about their ability to live and work with dignity.

MAHONEY: The labor action began two months ago when grad students decided to not submit grades. Now they're withholding labor by not teaching indefinitely. For NPR News, I'm Erika Mahoney in Santa Cruz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.