A group of student protesters organized in front of De La Guerra Dining Commons on April 16 to show their solidarity with the Workers Union’s vote to go on strike for better wages. United Student Labor Action Coalition (USLAC), an organization started last quarter, was the group that protested.
About nine students held signs that had various phrases like, “The UC is nothing without students and workers” and “UC! UC! You’re no good, treat workers like you should.”
“Our goals are to build community with our campus workers, to educate students on the common link between student and worker food/housing insecurity, to support both students and workers in that fight, and to build power for undergraduate student workers,” said Michael Kile, member of USLAC and the protest organizer.
Kile expressed dismay with UCSB’s administration tactics to suppress the strike. Kile said that UC administration recently sent out notices that warned against going on strike to about 24,000 service and Patient Care workers in the AFSCME Local 3299 union.
The UC system sent out two letters: one was a letter from Dwaine Duckett, the vice president of the UC Systemwide Human Resources, and the other was an FAQ regarding worker benefits and penalties during a strike.
In his letter, Duckett stated, “Striking is serious, and we think it is highly inappropriate for AFSCME to threaten patients and students with a potential strike as a negotiating tactic — our patients and students are not bargaining chips.”
In addition, Duckett cited the various benefits of the final settlement for a new contract that UC is offering to AFSCME after a year of bargaining. Some of the benefits include enhanced wages, health benefits, retirement benefits, and lump sum payments.
Duckett concluded his letter when he said, “You deserve a contract, not a strike.”
The FAQ states that workers who come to work during the strike will receive full pay and benefits. However, workers who skip work cannot use holiday or sick days as an excuse, and UC will automatically assume workers who miss work during the strike period are striking. These workers will receive no pay or benefits.
“State law requires that strikes be considered only as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted. UC does not believe AFSCME has, in good faith, exhausted all options,” according to the FAQ.
“The main issue boils down to neoliberal policies that are designed to enrich the few at the expense of the many and their methods of doing so target our working class communities, especially women and of color,” Kile said.
Kile recalled many instances of UC administration’s maltreatment of its workers.
According to Kile, during a bargaining session between the labor union AFSCME 3299 team and UC HR last May, a custodial staff member from UC Berkeley asked for an update on her work contract to better protect victims of sexual harassment.
The custodial staff member had “experience with sexual harassment from a manager and she did not report it for a long time because she felt unsafe doing so and insecure in her employment,” Kile said.
However, a female member of UC HR snapped back and yelled at her. The woman denied that it was an issue and said the union had no need to represent their workers for such issues.
The two bargaining sessions took place last May at the Loma Pelona Center and Facilities (FM) Yard near Harder Stadium.
There are many statistics that reveal high levels of food insecurity among UC workers.
According to an Occidental College study, “More than two-thirds of UC’s clerical, administrative, and support workers struggle to put adequate food on the table, which is considered food insecure according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture definition.” The USDA defines “food insecurity” as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
“The findings stand in contrast to other populations. The level of food insecurity among these UC employees is one and a half times higher than the level of food insecurity among UC students, and is more than five times higher than that of California residents and among the nation as a whole,” the study reports.
After their initial protest at DLG Dining Commons, the group met on the San Nicolas lawn to discuss their next protest site. Kile said that the purpose of going into the dining commons was to reach a broader audience and to gain more interest and support for the worker union’s decision.
Then UCPD Officer Jon Reyes met with them and asked for their next protest route. Reyes informed the group of their rights to organize, but Kile stated that he was not comfortable with informing the officer of their next protest site.
Kile said that their goal is to humanize UC workers.
“We intend to build a strong solidarity network so that we can continue to show for each other through the years,” he said. “The workers have consistently shown up to regents’ meetings and rallies on campus. They support our empowerment and as mentioned before, we can only rise up when we all do.”