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20 arrested at UC Santa Cruz as teaching assistants strike

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Twenty picketers were arrested Wednesday for blocking traffic at UC Santa Cruz as unionized teaching assistants and tutors began a strike at two UC campuses.

The walkout at Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley is expected to extend for a second day Thursday and include the system's other seven undergraduate campuses as well, union leaders said.

The United Auto Workers Local 2865 — which represents about 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and readers — called the strike to protest what it said were unfair labor practices and intimidation by UC administrators. Among other issues, the union contends that growing class sizes and workloads are making it difficult to offer quality teaching and tutoring.

At UC Santa Cruz, the arrests came as the protesters — mainly graduate students — tried to block campus roadway entrances Wednesday morning, university spokesman Jim Burns said.

The 20, cited on such allegations as failing to disperse and being a pedestrian in a roadway, were taken to the Santa Cruz County Jail and released soon after, according to the sheriff's office. Traffic was prevented from accessing the campus' main entrance for much of the day as picketing continued.

The union and UC have been negotiating a new contract since last summer.

"A strike will not resolve the issues on the table — it only hurts other students and their ability to get their education," UC spokeswoman Shelly Meron said. Administrators contend that they have made progress toward a settlement and have offered wage increases and higher child care subsidies, among other things.

But Caroline McKusick, an executive board member of the statewide union local, said UC has not made offers that "put academic quality first." McKusick, an anthropology graduate student at UC Davis, said the arrests showed that the university system "would rather intimidate us than settle things right."

The effect Wednesday on academic life was uneven. Some professors canceled classes and some teaching assistants rescheduled their discussion sections for later dates.

"There are some classes happening, but it is kind of like a ghost town," said Jeb Purucker, a literature department graduate student and teaching assistant at UC Santa Cruz.

Burns said that he did not know yet what percentage of classes and discussion sections were proceeding at their normal schedule, but that most offices and services at the Santa Cruz campus were operating — although some at reduced levels.

No arrests were reported at Berkeley. Most of the campus seemed to be operating as usual, but "pockets" of classes were canceled or rescheduled, campus spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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