Last Wednesday, U.C. Santa Barbara (UCSB) graduate students gathered in a sickout demonstration in which they all called off work sick in order to march in solidarity with their fellow graduates at U.C. Santa Cruz (UCSC). Earlier that day, UCSC graduates had traveled to the Jan. 22 U.C. Regents meeting in hopes of advocating for their cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) movement.
The COLA movement was created last September when UCSC graduates organized with union leaders to create a list of demands for U.C. leaders in hopes of bettering their living conditions. Based on self-reported polls, most UCSB and UCSC graduates are currently living with rent burden. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines cost burden as a situation in which individuals “pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing,” and severe rent burden as a situation in which individuals “pay more than 50 percent of one’s income on rent.”
In an interview with The Bottom Line (TBL), Sheila, one of the organizers of the sickout and a Ph.D student in the chemistry department (who wished to remain partially anonymous) explained why the UCSB graduates joined in the COLA movement.
“COLA stands for cost-of-living adjustment, and it would be a sum of money disbursed every month on top of regular salary pay,” said Sheila. “At UCSC they came up with a number of 1,412 dollars to bring their rent burden down from around 70 or 80 percent, lower to 35 or 40 percent.”
However, these numbers wouldn’t be the same for UCSB graduate students, Sheila explained. Graduate student participated in a self-reported survey, with around 600 graduate students respondents. Sheila noted that the survey showed that the average graduate student spends about 48 percent of their monthly salary on rent. In a post on the “UCSB 4 COLA” facebook page, the group states that they would need to receive an additional $1,133.57 to rid themselves of rent burden.
Sheila also emphasizes that the demonstration was not a strike; it was specifically a sickout. They explained that every graduate student has two guaranteed sick days, and that the sickout was a way to show support for the UCSC students at the U.C. Regents meeting, while also getting the word out about their concerns as well.
Allene (who wished to be referred to by only her first name), a Ph.D candidate in the classics department at UCSB, explained how the rent burden has affected her while in school.
“Almost all of us are constantly on the edge financially. For example this past October I had some unforeseen expenses and had 38 cents in my bank account for half of October and only 20 dollars cash,” said Allene. “With our pay as it stands right now, it’s really difficult to save, it’s difficult to have a standard living, and I don’t mean living luxuriously — I mean to be able to afford basic expenses.”
Although these stories are just now being reported on for graduate students at UCSB, back at UCSC, graduate students have been fighting for the COLA movement since September of last year. Over the past few months, the UCSC graduate students have been holding demonstrations in hopes of getting their concerns answered by administrators, but on Dec. 8, their movement hit its crescendo when students began to strike. The students held back from submitting fall grades until their concerns were addressed by U.C. leaders. On their website, UCSC graduates explain that the holding of grades will not hurt students, but is necessary for them to be heard.
In an interview with TBL, Charles Perkins, a Ph.D candidate in the philosophy department, explained that the COLA movement doesn’t want to “burden” undergraduates by having them pay for graduate students’ pay increase. The graduate students understand the weight many undergraduates have to carry because of student loans, and they wouldn’t want to add to that, Perkins stated.