UC Santa Cruz grad students on grading strike over pay raise, university says action is illegal

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- "We only have one demand. An ongoing payment of every graduate student that would bring us out of rent burden and wage parity at UC Riverside," read one sign, loud and clear during a rally held Tuesday afternoon at University of California Santa Cruz. The amount they're asking for -- $1,417.

Students say if they don't get the raise, they won't turn in student grades, which are due on Dec. 18 as part of their jobs as teaching assistants.

"I would say about 70% of my monthly wages go towards rent," said Brenda Arjona, a PhD graduate student. "It's pretty bleak that after paying your bills, you still have to feed yourself and your child."

"I'm a bit older. I came with savings but that will be gone by the time I'm done," said Stephen David Engel.

In a strongly worded statement, the Dean of Graduate Studies warned that students are in violation of their contract, that academic student employees can't engage in a strike and that withholding grades or deleting them from the system could be in violation of federal law.

Scott Hernandez-Jason, spokesperson for UC Santa Cruz, said, "A grading strike is illegal and doesn't get us closer to a resolution or helping them."

Englel says, "The problem is not just that contract. It's a long history of exploitation by the university of saying we're going to pay you enough money to live here. We're not looking for big salaries, we're looking for money to buy food, to make rent, to support our lives."
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