SMITH PLAZA — Nearly a dozen graduate employees convened on March 2 in solidarity with the 74 University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) graduate employees that were effectively terminated over the weekend after a months-long strike.
UCSC teaching assistants refused to submit final grades as leverage for a cost of living pay adjustment. After denying the university's ultimatum, the striking graduates were either fired or had contracts unrenewed for the spring leaving many undergraduate classes vacant, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
"It's ridiculous to expect graduate workers in California to live off of $18,000 per year," said Emma Mincks, a graduate student in the English department and employee at the University of New Mexico. "They just can't live off of that in California when your rent is $1,800 to $3,000 a month."
For graduate students here in the high desert, the grievances of their coastal colleagues hit close to home.
Axel Gonzalez, an American Studies department graduate student and UNM employee, spoke at the rally. Gonzalez said although the situation at UNM isn't identical, graduate students across the nation face a familiar work model — graduates teach and grade the bulk of classes for a bare minimum stipend.
Although some departments pay more, most graduate students are stuck with a $14,000 minimum yearly stipend, according to Gonzalez.
"Universities function on the cheap labor of graduate employees," Gonzalez said. "We produce a huge chunk of the credit hours at this University (and) across universities across the country."
David Puthoff, a Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant in the English department, said although graduate workers teach around 20 hours a week on paper, most graduate students work nearly double that amount. In New Mexico, an average 40-hour workweek would amount to about $18,720 a year, according to a state minimum-wage database.
"We kept a journal one semester of how much we're actually doing, and we end up teaching anywhere between 40 and 60 hours a week because of high class sizes," Puthoff said. "It's writing-intensive, so it's very labor-intensive — the (English) department requires us to teach three units a semester, so it's a lot of work, a lot of grading, a lot of class prep."
Puthoff said class prep typically occurs over breaks when graduate workers are unpaid. This work comes atop of their own class schedules, side jobs and research.
"Grad school should be a challenge, but it shouldn't be a challenge to live," Puthoff said.
Tori Cárdenas, a graduate worker and UNM student, expressed discontent with what they said were the overlooked financial burdens the University imposes on graduates.
"We don't get parking passes. We have to be here — at least help us out," Cárdenas said.
After Mincks and Gonzalez spoke on the wages at both UCSC and UNM, the graduate workers marched from the plaza to University House as a symbolic show of the wealth inequities between top administrators and workers.
"We can't make rent while the president gets her housing subsidized, and she doesn't even live there," Gonzalez said while stationed outside of University House.
"Also, we make $14,000 a year. President Stokes makes $412,000 a year," Mincks added.
As the rally came to a close and workers had to return to classes, the power of the collective was expressed to the tune of the union anthem "Solidarity Forever."
In all, graduate students reiterated that the students they teach ultimately suffer from their lack of compensation.
"Our working conditions are undergraduate learning conditions," Puthoff said. "When we struggle to make ends meet, the quality of our teaching, the quality of our service declines steeply, and admin ought to treat us like workers and stop treating us like we're disposable."
Alyssa Martinez is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @amart4447