A group of students march across a bridge at UC Santa Cruz holding signs in solidarity with UC-AFT lecturers
Photo by Merri Hansen

Lecturer Joy Hagen has taught the same class in Rachel Carson at UC Santa Cruz for the past 16 years. Each year she has to reapply to teach the class, with zero guarantee she will be able to teach it again. 

Hagen stood on the edge of Quarry Plaza, addressing those gathered at the first of two pre-strike rallies for the University Council-American Federation of Teachers Union (UC-AFT). Along with Hagen, nearly 50 people showed up on Oct. 13 to support UC lecturers.

“How do you live if you have to apply for your work every 10 weeks of your life?” Hagen asked the crowd through her double mask. “We need the UC to see us and support students by supporting the people who teach them.”

As a writing program lecturer, Hagen has secured a continuing appointment. Her status in Rachel Carson is less secure. For lecturers like Hagen, who teach a course that only occurs one quarter out of the academic year, gaining a continuing appointment in that department would take 18 years. 

As the UC ignores their pleas for a living wage, job security, and fair work loads, the lecturers and librarians of UC-AFT prepare to strike. UC-AFT chapters at campuses across the UC system held simultaneous pre-strike pickets and rallies on Oct. 13 and 14, to make their messaging clear to the UC administration — there is no UC without lecturers.

“Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong.”

At UCSC, “solidarity forever” was not only chanted at the rallies, but embodied by undergraduates, professors, graduate students, and supporters who showed up for the UC-AFT lecturers. 

“It is really about getting the word out to people,” said UC-AFT Santa Cruz Field Representative, Jeb Purucker. “We’ve been in this contract fight now for three years, […] our impasse process is progressing, and if a strike becomes something that’s necessary, then this is about laying the groundwork and talking to folks about that.”

Purucker emphasized that the administration is watching these rallies and pickets at UCSC and every other UC campus.

The UC administration sent an email to faculty on Oct. 11, two days before the pre-strike pickets, highlighting a new contract proposal for lecturers. This proposal had not been mentioned in previous bargaining sessions where it could have been formally discussed by both parties.

“When the boss starts sending mass emails to workers, it’s because they’re worried about something,” Purucker said. “There is a possibility that just seeing us mobilizing and growing and organizing for a strike will put some pressure on negotiations.”

The new proposal highlights a general 3 percent pay increase for union members, a more structured appointment system for rehiring, and the ability to count summer session courses toward obtaining a continuing appointment. 

UCSC writing lecturer and representative to the UC-AFT statewide council Roxi Power criticized the proposal’s inadequate pay raise and the unaddressed issues of unmanageable workloads and the implementation of job security — which could end in lecturers losing their jobs before this proposal is put into place. 

To Power, the UC’s proposal was more of a publicity stunt than anything else. 

“They’re doing this in a way that is trying to skirt our strong mass movement,” Power said.  “It’s not okay to send a proposal out in email outside of bargaining. They’re afraid of our members showing up to the bargaining and expressing our questions about the legitimacy of this proposal, they just frame it as something really wonderful to the whole campus.”

A sign of UC President, Micheal Drake, on a milk carton labeled "Missing." In the background there is strike movements and a large puppet depicting the university.
Photo by Merri Hansen

Power said that one of the union’s main targets for this protest is the UC president, Michael Drake, who has been silent during the past three years of bargaining. 

To Power, it is unacceptable for President Drake’s office to distribute proposals like this. She said that it’s time for Drake to address the lecturers directly. 

During the rally, attendees were encouraged to write to Drake by email or through social media posts, demanding he break his silence and support lecturers.

While the new proposal did not meet the needs of lecturers, it is seen as progress and for many, validation and assurance that their fight is working. 

“Two days ago [the university] made their first significant movement,” said UCSC lecturer and UC-AFT Vice President of Organizing, Joshua Brahinsky, to the crowd on the second day of rallies. “Because they saw that we were hitting the streets. And when you hit the streets, things change.” 

Student Solidarity

Just as many lecturers and professors showed up to the 2020 COLA protests, many UCSC graduate students attended the rallies in solidarity. History of Consciousness graduate student Jack Davies was one of them. Davies is the Santa Cruz unit chair for UAW 2865, the union representing student workers across the UC system. 

“What’s extremely crucial right now is that all these artificially different units of workers and students on this campus move together and move as one in common antagonism to this university and the way it has been running its business — increasing tuition, pinching wages, and freezing our conditions,” Davies said.

With bargaining of graduate student contracts starting in December, Davies noted the importance of campus labor groups mobilizing together. 

Multiple student organizations were present and spoke at the rallies, including GABRIELA SC and Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC). Third-year and WSSC member Adria Vidales attended the first rally. 

“It’s really critical to support all the workers on our campus and all workers everywhere,” Vidales said. “The relationships that we form with the people who teach us are really critical to a lot of students’ lives.” 

Lecturers teach in almost every department across campuses and many do research in their field and manage workloads similar to or greater than tenured professors. 

Aside from not having the same job security or pay, lecturers are not a part of the Academic Senate, which serves as the governing body at universities. Writing lecturer Philip Longo has worked alongside UCSC students for 12 years, knowing firsthand the struggles his students face every day.    

“I am not able to represent your concerns to the university,” said Longo at the second day of rallies. “None of your lecturers are, because we are shut out.” 

One student stands with fist raised in the air as speakers address the crowd at Quarry Plaza.
Photo by Merri Hansen

A Path to University Solidarity

Joshua Brahinsky emphasized to the crowd that this is a fight they will win. Both Roxi Power and Jeb Purucker said separately that UC-AFT will do what it takes to get lecturers the contracts they deserve, even if that means going on strike. 

Joshua Brahinsky speaks to the marchers outside if Clark Kerr Hall using a megaphone. The image shows Brahinsky speaking between signs being held by students.
Photo by Merri Hansen

The last time UC-AFT lecturers went on strike was in 2002. After two days, they secured the current continuing appointment process, which gave them the limited amount of job security they have today. This milestone is what recent negotiations are building on to ensure the safety of all lecturer positions.

Following the rally on Oct. 13, Purucker stated, “The power that workers ultimately have is in our ability to stop working.”

The rallies at UCSC were held beneath promotional campus banners that read, ‘Our voices will define this century.’ Throughout both days of rallying, the voices of lecturers, students, and professors were loud and unwavering. They are forging the path to better working and learning conditions at UCSC, and all UCs.

To learn more about UC-AFT or to get involved, visit its website here.