UC-Wide Workers Rally for Equality

Students and maintenance workers protest in front of the Arbor for equal pay. (Photo by America Lopez Martin/The Bottom Line)

Xiaotong Zhou
Staff Writer

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, UC’s largest employee union, held protests on multiple UC campuses to demand just treatment from UC on Feb. 1.

The UCSB Student-Workers Coalition held a protest in the Arbor between 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, rallying loudly at 8 a.m. and noon. Approximately 50 people marched through the Arbor with printed headshots of Martin Luther King Jr. at noon, shouting “UC, UC you’re not good, treat your workers like you should,” “They say cutback, we say fight back! They say go away, we say no way,” and “Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power! What kind of power? Union power!”

Michael Kile, an AFSCME intern and one of the principal speakers in the protest, explained that a reason for calling students and workers together was to protect women and immigrants, advocating “for a fair and safe UC.”

According to a post on Facebook, the UC-wide protest demonstrates “struggle(s) for a higher wage, continued benefits, and protections against hateful immigration policies.”

Specifically, workers at UCSB protesting on Thursday said that they face increases in healthcare costs, but zero percent pay increases over five years, cutbacks on pension plans, and a lack of sanctuary campus reforms. The union also said that student workers are paid well below the UC minimum wage of $15 an hour, which was announced by President Janet Napolitano in 2015.

“We are not asking for lots of money,” said Griselda ‘Babe’ Gonzales, a medical assistant at Student Health who has been working at UCSB for 28 years. “We just want to be able to survive here and that’s what we are asking for. It’s to make sure we can have the same benefits, the healthcare, the retirement, to make sure we have a safe place to work.”

“We want to let everyone know about unsafe practices all the way back from 50 years ago, when people are working in an unsafe nation,” said Gonzales.

Juan Donato, a groundskeeper lead who has been working at UCSB for seven years, said, “Today is very symbolic. It’s very symbolic because of the struggles that we had before, we still have today.”

This protest is historically-rooted. Fifty years ago, on Feb. 1, 1968, sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike after two of their coworkers were crushed by a garbage truck. Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, workers joined their local AFSCME chapter and won and their first contract.

The needs for economic equality and social justice demonstrated 50 years ago are “the same issues that we are protesting today,” said Donato.

According to the flyer AFSCME Local 3299 workers gave out, similar issues UC workers are dealing with today include “unsafe staffing levels that threaten worker and patient safety,” “being asked to do more for less with wages that don’t keep up with inflation,” and “the displacement of African American workers.”

“This is about equality, security, dignity and fairness,” he said. “We have watched UCs input tuition highs on students, and cuts increases from workers, the combination of these things enables inequality and disregards rights, which is [why] we are caring today.”

UC is enabling a culture of inequality and excess since it continues “robbing students and contaminating workers into poverty,” Donato said.

“Today is statewide, all the universities are out today, protesting today,” said Gonzales, “we are in negotiation so we can’t say too much right now.”