Graduate students grade student essays and midterm exams in the lobby at Kerr Hall in response to pay cuts to TAs’ salaries. Photo by Molly Solomon.
Students and faculty gather in Quarry Plaza to protest the proposed 8 to 20 percent tuition increase. Photo by Molly Solomon.

Members of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) and undergraduate students gathered Tuesday at the Quarry Plaza for a “teach-in” about contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the UC which resumed that day. The rally ended at Kerr Hall, where protesters succeeded in doubling the funding for graduate student childcare to the negotiation agenda.

UC President Mark Yudof’s proposal of an 8 percent fee increase for the 2011-12 school year was also criticized by protesters.

If the UC regents approve the proposal at the Nov. 16-18 regents meeting, Yudof’s proposal will increase the UC system’s educational fee by $828 to $11,124.

In an e-mail to the campus community on Nov. 9, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal wrote, “In the end, about 55 percent of UC undergraduates will have the entire proposed fee increase covered by financial aid, Cal Grant awards, or a combination.”

He also announced that, after seven years of negotiation with the UC Office of the President, he expects that 100 percent of future fee increases paid by UCSC students will be distributed back to UCSC.

Erin Ellison, a TA in the psychology department, spoke to the group of protesters about how the proposed budget will affect graduate students.

“[I’m at] the University of California because I thought it was a high quality of education,” Ellison said. “But we’re overloaded with work and responsibilities and don’t get paid enough to even make rent.”

Protesters performed a skit criticizing large class sizes, where students dressed as zombies finishing assignment after assignment while a TA tried in vain to keep up with grading.

Comparing the skit to last year’s strikes, Ellison recognized the importance of diversifying methods of protest in order to remain effective.

“Well, obviously talking, negotiating, writing letters, and petitioning hasn’t worked, so this is what we’re left with,” Ellison said. “I think that it’s important to have lots of different tactics. I don’t think you’ve seen the end of strikes.”

Madeline Lane, a literature TA involved in last year’s strike organization and supporter of this year’s rallies, proposed that discussion of problems affecting the classroom be integrated into the classroom.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities to contextualize the content of our protests, of our critique of the budget cuts, and privatization into the classroom,” she said.

The rally moved to Kerr Hall, where 32 students staged an hour-long sit-in in the building’s lobby in an effort to reach out to the budget negotiators. The protesters had Kerr Hall staff contact labor relations, and they were eventually able to have their message heard.

A protester kept in constant contact with Kerr Hall faculty, clarifying the group’s incentives.

“We’re just trying to get paid fair,” she said to building staff. “Our rent is more than half of our monthly salary. It’s hard to survive.”

Protesters were concerned with potential decreases in TA salaries resulting from the negotiations. GSOC organizers argue that the UC’s current offer of 2 percent raises over the next three years will result in a 1 percent decrease in salaries, as the university has projected inflation of almost 3 percent.

Also on the agenda was increased funding for graduate student childcare. A UCSC TA and graduate student organizing committee member, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that current funding does little to cover the costs of childcare.

“Right now, grad students with children get $300 a quarter for childcare, and that’s nothing,” the student said. “That takes care of about a week of childcare.”

The Kerr Hall sit-in dispersed after the protesters’ message was relayed to the bargaining committee. As the sit-in ended, a GSOC organizer announced that childcare subsidies had been brought to the bargaining table. Before the protest, childcare had not even been part of negotiations.

Jim Burns, UCSC director of public information, said that UCSC administrators are sympathetic to the protester’s concerns.

“At the campus level, we very much appreciate the views expressed by the graduate students in Kerr Hall yesterday,” he said in an e-mail. “We not only understand their concerns about wages, workload and the state budget’s overall impact on the quality of education, we respect the manner in which they called attention to those views. Per the students’ request, we relayed those concerns to the UC systemwide bargaining team.”

As of press time, the UC has walked away from the barganing table without yet agreeing on a contract.