Lauren Marnel Shores
To commemorate May Day, a crowd of student and worker activists joined together for a protest against worker grievances within the University of California system. The march began at Storke Tower and continued through campus to Cheadle Hall, where the union leaders delivered a letter to Chancellor Yang asking for a formal meeting.
Michael Kyle and Gabriel Romo, interns for AFSCME 3299 (the University of California’s largest employee union), organized the rally in their efforts for administration to address student and worker needs. Kyle, a fifth year chemical engineering student, explained that “we have a lot of food insecurity going around … myself, I skip a lot of meals and rely on the food bank right now. I’m one of 40 percent of students, and one of 70 percent of workers, who do the same.”
Kyle’s main hope for the march was for the university to confront food insecurity, as well as for the administration to fix the “systemic issues with funding in the UC’s that allow us to keep living in these impoverished conditions.”
“If the answer is that the UC doesn’t have enough funding,” Kyle said, “what is Chancellor Yang, and the rest of administration, going to do to get us that funding, as opposed to always just leaving it to students to drive to Sacramento and San Francisco, when we can’t even afford to eat, to go represent ourselves.”
Much of the march’s emphasis was placed on increased tuition and housing bills, while individuals are already struggling to keep up with the high costs as is. Kyle described how the lack of sufficient housing allowed for the rise of slumlords to take advantage of already marginalized groups within Isla Vista.
“Why is it that we can’t get enough raises to keep up with the cost of living?” rallied Gabe Contreras, a community activist and worker in the university’s library. “Why is it the chancellors get raises that are more than my one year salary? Why is it that 135 people in 2010 made above $300,000? In 2015, that number went up from 269 percent to 364. Where is that money coming from?”
“We are in a time, right now, where we are seeing the most oppressive injustices from administration,” said Candice Perez, an organizer for PODER and CAP, “When there are huge amounts of darkness, there’s also huge amounts of light. That’s what we have here with this new consciousness, on May Day, the day of the worker.”
Because of the past work from labor unions, there is now an eight-hour work day, parental work leave, and child labor laws. Likewise, AFSCME aspires to battle increased housing prices and food insecurity despite wages continuing to be cut.
“I’m very hopeful,” said third year sociology and history major Roseline Aka, “If I wasn’t hopeful, I wouldn’t be here at all.” Aka and Kyle both expressed their concern that while the university claims to support their efforts, they each felt that it wasn’t doing enough to protect workers’ rights. In addition, Aka described how she felt workers were left widely unnoticed. “It’s staff appreciation week right now,” said Kyle, “and they’re giving them free ice cream and tours around Storke Tower instead of a living wage.”
The efforts of their solidarity will soon become apparent after future meetings between administration and the labor union, as AFSCME demands justice for the perceived exploitation of marginalized and oppressed groups on campus.
As of press time, organizers announced via Facebook post that the administration had agreed to a meeting. “We hope to create a system of accountability with the administration in regards to both violations of labor rights and in the fight for the full funding of the UC,” they wrote.
“This is for all the people who have been struggling so hard to be able to give you the privilege to be protesting right now,” announced Contreras. “This is for the people who wash your showers and scrub your toilets. This is for the people who make your clothes. This is for the people who died so you can be where you are. This is for the trabajadores.”