University of California, Santa Cruz graduate students started a strike Monday to demand higher wages to keep up with living costs in an area that has recently seen housing costs skyrocket.
About 400 students picketed outside campus, holding signs that read "The rent is too damn high" and "Pay us enough."
Veronica Hamilton, a social psychology doctoral student and co-vice president of the UCSC Graduate Student Association, said the students decided to strike after months of failed conversations with the administration.
Hamilton said they have been demanding a cost of living adjustment because most of the teaching assistants are spending at least half of their salaries on housing.
"There are many meals that I don't have, and I think twice about paying for medical procedures -- and that's the case for a lot of people," she said.
As part of the strike, the graduate students won't teach, do research or grade their students.
They started a grading strike in December, refusing to submit fall quarter grades until they get a $1,400 monthly raise. The average teaching assistant's monthly salary is $2,400. An average one-bedroom apartment in Santa Cruz rents for $2,600 per month, according to RentCafe.
The strike comes after administration officials refused to negotiate and threatened to fire them, Hamilton said.
UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive said in a campus message last month that those teaching assistants who didn't submit grades by Feb. 2 would receive a written disciplinary warning in accordance with a labor contract. She also announced an annual housing supplement of $2,500 for graduate students.
"We are extremely disappointed some graduate students are planning to continue to withhold grades," UCSC spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason said in a statement Monday.
The university has no authority to change a system-wide labor contract with the UAW, which has not authorized the students to strike, Hernandez-Jason said.