Lauren Marnel Shores
Campus Beat Reporter
On Wednesday, the Associated Students Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of the unionization of workers on UC campuses and the negotiations between the UC and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 (AFSCME 3299), the largest UC employee union.
The resolution, authored by Senators Steven Ho and Brandon Mora, follows the arrest of 51-year-old UC Berkeley chef, David Cole, during his participation of the UC wide AFSCME 3299 protests for workers rights on Feb. 1. Spectators in the crowd video taped the arrest, calling the act “police brutality, anti Black state violence.”
“For the workers to see something like that, they’re afraid. They feel as if they’ve been violated for speaking out against poverty and inequality, and that’s a shame that UC reacted that way,” said John de Los Angeles, communication director for AFSCME 3299.
The resolution states that this kind of police intervention gives “claim to the militarization of the University of California campuses as well as the injustices that many workers face on UC Campuses.”
“I thought that was uncalled for since we literally had the same protest here at UCSB and no police seemed like they even cared, even if the police came out [to the Arbor] and watched us,” said Ho, a second year biology and Asian American studies double major.
“When we received word what had happened on the Berkeley campus … we immediately began to organize,” said de Los Angeles. “It’s literally been since the moment that it happened we’ve been working on this list of demands [for social and racial equality] and working to bring justice to the situation for David.”
AS Senate “demands” that the UC signs onto AFSCME Local 3299’s list of demands, with a particular emphasis on fostering social and racial equality and taking a stance against the UC collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“For workers to stand their ground and then to deescalate the situation, and then police to come in and automatically assume that David was in the wrong, when it was very clear from the video that he was protesting peacefully with his sign … it really only underscores the inequality that we’re trying to shed light on,” said de Los Angeles.
Michael Kile, the student sponsor of the resolution and intern at AFSCME 3299, shed light on these inequalities in his own contributions to the resolution. These include how “dining common workers cannot call in sick or else they risk getting fired” or how UC workers are exposed to “unsafe working conditions, given low wages and lack of proper benefits.”
Furthermore, “AFSCME workers in UCSB are among the lowest paid workers in the entire University of California System,” despite the extremely high costs to living in the Santa Barbara area. Even with most working two or more jobs, many cannot afford to live near the university, and thus many homes and families were more heavily affected by the Thomas Fire.
“Many of them weren’t even given leave until two weeks after the fire,” continued Ho. “The university is definitely not considerate. They’re very considerate of the students but not the workers even though I feel that the workers make up just as much of the university as the students do.”
Beyond the university maintenance work that most students are familiar with, the university workers have contributed in other positive ways such as being the ones who opened up North Hall to the 1968 Black student protesters, ultimately leading to the creation of the Black Studies Department. Despite this, Ho expressed his perception that AFSCME workers are underappreciated at the university and vulnerable to exploitation.
The Feb. 1 protests were intended to bring these injustices to the forefront of the community’s mind for the 50th anniversary of the deaths of sanitation workers Robert Walker and Echol Cole. Their deaths, caused by the dangerous working conditions, sparked the Memphis Sanitation Strike, in which 1,300 of the city’s black sanitation workers went on strike for better wages and safer working conditions.
This event was also momentous in that it is said to have marked a shift in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s aims, and would draw him back to the city of Memphis several times over the course of March and April, including the day of his assassination.
“It’s really ironic,” stated de Los Angeles. “It’s shameful and disgusting, on a day when we honoring a guy named Ecole Cole – a guy who shares the same name with David Cole – was assaulted when a car drove through a crowd of protesters.”
Faridian said that on Feb. 15, AFSCME showed up at the office of University of California Office of the President in Oakland, advocating for the rights of David Cole and his fellow workers.
“We were refused to be accommodated,” said de Los Angeles. “We were left pretty much to chant and protest in the lobby, but we have delivered the list of demands … We’re really pushing to have the charges dropped. Another interesting thing we’re working to secure for David is to ensure that for the duration of his ordeal, he is provided with paid leave.”
In response to the great support students and workers have shown towards AFSCME demands, including an online petition with nearly 2,000 signatures demanding that the charges against David Cole be dropped, de Los Angeles said “I think it’s extremely important. It signals to UC that it’s not just an issue for David, his family, and his coworkers, but the community at large … It’s a signal to the UC that there is a growing crowd whose concerned about this kind of blatant disregard by the university is very meaningful.”