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The realities of California higher education + abolishing Silicon Valley

Hello again! 2020 is less than three weeks old and I already published two things I’m very proud of.

First was this dispatch overview of the ongoing campaign from University of California—Santa Cruz graduate students organizing to receive a higher Cost of Living Adjustment. I wrote about it for The Strikewave, a labor newsletter that a bunch of folks I admire put together as a labor of love.

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Since at least the Reagan administration, tuition and other fees for public schools have been rising so that they’re often just as expensive as private schools. On top of that, UCSC is nestled in Santa Cruz, an enclave that has seen the cost of living skyrocket in recent years because of its small stock of affordable housing and proximity to Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area. Professors at UCSC did a study of the housing crisis called “No Place Like Home” that showed that due to myriad factors such as underbuilding affordable housing and stagnant wages, Santa Cruz has become one of (if not the) the most unaffordable housing markets in the country.

Because of this, UCSC grad students who are often paid $22,000 a year or less, have to take on multiple jobs, scrounge for food and live in substandard living conditions in order to feed and house themselves, affecting their ability to teach and do research, let alone support themselves. Hence, their demand for a higher COLA. Since my article was published Jan. 8, students at UC-Santa Barbara have launched their own COLA campaign.

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I also published my first feature of the year in The New Republic, looking at how the so-called “gig economy” has destroyed quality of life and working-class and middle-class communities in major cities like San Francisco and San Diego.

It’s no secret that tech companies like Uber, Lyft, Twitter, Apple, and Google have dominated the cities they’re based in, as each office “campus” contains at least a few hundred (if not thousands) of workers, who all need places to live/play/party. However, as we have seen in exposés such as Super Pumped, the ‘disruption’ model upon which these companies are based is often just a way to justify passing on the costs of labor to their workers and customers while assuming no responsibilities such as providing workers’ compensation, insurance, paid time off, or other benefits, let alone respecting basic laws of safety and labor.

This creates a dire situation where workers are not only subject to the unrelenting demands of their companies (often via app or algorithm), but they’re not even paid adequately to afford to live in the communities they service due to compounding factors such as a lack of affordable housing and flat wages. On top of this, such companies make life miserable for the rest of us in urban centers, adding significantly to congestion, gentrification, homelessness, and pollution while littering our streets with abandoned e-bikes and scooters.

Some attempts are being made, such as California’s Assembly Bill 5, to regulate these companies, but they are insisting that such laws don’t apply to them, because they’re “technology companies” and not actually providing a direct service. Even so, AB5 has its own issues, particularly for freelance journalists, which my friend Rebecca Bodenheimer wrote about for Dame Magazine.

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San Francisco Public Press published a great article showing that due to a tiny footnote that was sneakily inserted last minute into a legal document, Uber (and to some extent Lyft) have been able to avoid handing over complete data sets to its regulator (California Public Utilities Commission) that show the full range of road/accident incidents that its drivers and passengers have been involved in. One driver was flagged multiple times for speeding, running red lights, fender benders and such before he was finally put out of commission when he slammed into another car at 45 mph while on the clock. Each time a passenger made a complaint, Uber waved them away until it was impossible to ignore.

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All of this is to say that I’m extremely excited for my friend Wendy Liu’s (@dellsystem) book, Abolish Silicon Valley, to come out, which you can pre-order here.

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