This summer, fires ravaged Santa Cruz County, destroying nearly 1,000 homes, with tens of thousands of residents either evacuated or put on evacuation notice. As the fires raged on, classes were not cancelled at UCSC, nor were finals postponed – even as the UCSC campus was evacuated.

Of course, Academic Student Employees (ASEs) were already forced to teach online due to the pandemic, their homes (already threatened by wages inadequate to meet housing costs, now threatened by fire) becoming their workplaces. With everyone in the campus community caught between intersecting crises, classes continued; meanwhile, UCSC’s Summer Session office gave ASEs the ‘option’ of extending grading time by one week, to allow them the ‘extra time’ and ‘flexibility’ to complete outstanding grading. 

For most, this was no ‘option’ in any meaningful sense. For many, not taking the extension would mean failing their students; for many others, their supervisors took this ‘option’ as a ‘directive’ and demanded they work anyway.

Through our union, UAW-2865, we filed grievances for dozens of ASEs who were affected, arguing that the university had unilaterally added a week’s worth of time to workers’ pay period without paying them a dime for it. Beyond adding a week’s work to ASEs’ schedules, we argued that the university broke a number of conditions guaranteed in our contract around access to adequate resources and health and safety: workers reported needing to record lectures on cell phones, spending hours reassuring students who had lost their homes, and working through headaches and other health issues caused by smoke inhalation. The administration refused to find a remedy to our grievances, and – as of December 14th, three and a half months later – continues to fight tooth and nail to avoid paying its workers for the extra week.

The administration argues that while they are sympathetic to the difficulties caused by the fires, ASEs’ work remained the same; they merely worked the same scheduled hours within an extra week. This betrays the impressive detachment of management from the experiences of teaching and learning. With the onset of the CZU fires, wrapping up the summer quarter was thrown into dramatic disarray. Many ASEs were required to check in with every student individually, complete grading throughout the weeks, consult with their supervisors and fellow workers,inform students about changes to classroom and university policy, and a whole host of other duties. As many workers stated, anything less would constitute a neglect of both their and the university’s responsibilities toward students.

Should the UC continue not to pay its workers for their extra labor, this would set a worrying precedent for the Santa Cruz campus and UC system. As we face devastating natural disasters increasing in number and scale year after year, the administration cannot continue to demand its workers simply work on.

The UC cannot treat its workers with such disregard! An injury to one is an injury to all!