Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Grad Student Strike at Santa Cruz - Part 2

UCSC students tangle with police

By Nicholas Ibarra | Santa Cruz Sentinel |

SANTA CRUZ — At least 17 people were arrested in a tense standoff between hundreds of demonstrators and dozens of police that dragged on for hours Wednesday afternoon in the intersection in front of UC Santa Cruz’s main entrance. It was the third day of graduate students’ wildcat strike — an action not authorized by the UAW 2865 union representing student workers across the UC system. The strike is an escalation to a monthslong campaign calling for a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, in the form of a substantial raise for teaching assistants who say they cannot afford the cost of living in Santa Cruz.

With coverage by outlets including The New York Times and the Associated Press, the strike has quickly gained a national media profile this week. Similar cost-of-living adjustment campaigns are reportedly playing out on other UC campuses on a smaller scale. Shortly after noon Wednesday, dozens of police moved in to clear scores of demonstrators occupying the Bay and High street intersection after multiple orders to disperse were ignored. Police surrounded and dragged away demonstrators one by one who were sitting in circles in the intersection with their arms linked. More demonstrators poured into the intersection in response and both sides backed off and regrouped after minutes of chaotic confrontation.

A total of 17 people were arrested Wednesday, according to UCSC spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason. They face charges including unlawful assembly, obstructing a public roadway and disobeying a lawful order. “Officers repeatedly tried to de-escalate the situation and made clear that blocking this major roadway had to stop or it would lead to arrest,” Hernandez-Jason said in a statement. “Demonstrators locked arms, sat in the roadway, and refused to move back onto the university field.”

“During Monday’s demonstration, there were several dangerous incidents between vehicles and picketers when this major intersection was blocked,” he added. “The safety of everyone is our highest priority. Failing to comply with an order to disperse and obstructing a roadway is extremely dangerous, and it is also against the law.”

UCSC police Sgt. Brian Cabriales said all but one of the arrested demonstrators were expected to be quickly cited and released. One person who was arrested refused to identify themselves, according to Cabriales, and could remain in custody for days until their identity could be determined. Numerous faculty — some donning their formal regalia gowns — were present Wednesday, as they have been throughout the week, many working to keep tensions from boiling over or demonstrating in solidarity with the students. Roxi Power, a UCSC writing lecturer, said she was in attendance for both reasons.

“I’m sorry that the administration has chosen not to talk, and this is the result,” Power said. “As a teacher, I feel a little maternalistic and a little worried about them and that’s why I’m standing here to make sure nothing bad happens, I hope.”

Informal negotiations between student organizers and an administrator took place throughout the afternoon in huddled groups on the outskirts of the demonstration. Student organizers called for interim provost Lori Kletzer or Chancellor Cynthia Larive to come negotiate with them as a precondition for leaving the intersection. Neither campus executive arrived at the demonstration.

Multiple huddles with administrator Gene Marie Scott, UCSC’s associate vice chancellor of Risk and Safety Services, followed. Scott briefly addressed the students using one of their megaphones, encouraging them to move from the intersection to a road leading into the campus. But the hundreds of rowdy students occupying the intersection voted — by voice, and using a thumbs-up or thumbs-down tally — against the proposal and continued to occupy the intersection.

It appeared another engagement with police was likely as a crowd of hundreds of students continued to face off with officers, who hemmed in the intersection on three sides. Ryan Page, a film and media doctoral student who is among the striking teaching assistants, placed himself on the front line of demonstrators facing the bulk of police.

“The UC said they’re against undergraduates being harmed — graduate students are actually willing to put their bodies on the line to stop undergraduates from being harmed,” he said of his choice to face possible arrest. Page said he plans to transfer elsewhere to finish his dissertation after this year. “This strike has, really, very little to do with my own benefit. I’m moving. I can’t afford to live here. I’m out,” he said.

But police held back from another engagement, and demonstrators eventually decided to retreat to a nearby grassy area by the campus entrance where picketing commonly takes place, ending the standoff for the day shortly after 3:30 p.m. Many demonstrators gave surrounding police the middle finger, chanting “cops off campus” as they retreated. On Monday, the first day of the strike, at least one student was arrested for driving around a police barricade in an apparent effort to deliver water to demonstrators. A second person was cited Monday for blocking the campus’ west entrance, according to UCSC spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason.

Exactly how the strike is impacting UCSC’s academic programs remained unclear Wednesday. Hernandez-Jason, the campus spokesman, had previously said an online form was gathering reports of canceled classes and sections. But he was unable to provide any additional information that would speak to the number of canceled sections or striking students throughout the week. Strike organizers have estimated they believe roughly half of UCSC’s more than 750 teaching assistants and graduate-student instructors are on strike. Demonstrations were expected to resume for a fourth day Thursday morning.
Note: Our previous post on this matter included the following:
Campus administrators have said it would be illegal for them to negotiate with strikers because the protest is unauthorized by the broader union, and their contract prohibits such work stoppages.*
*Editor's note: Yes, it would be illegal as stated. Directly negotiating with whatever ad hoc student group is leading the strike at the campus level would violate state law. However, the union (as opposed to the ad hoc student group) can be asked if it would reopen the contract voluntarily to discuss a pay adjustment. That is, both sides can always voluntarily agree to reopen an existing contract, even if the contract has a longer duration. Campus officials and UC officials may not want to make such a request out of fear that the entire contract - all campuses - would end up being reopened or simply may want to make the point that a no-strike clause in a contract has to be respected.

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