Letter to the Editor: Dining Hall Laborers Have Had Enough, Do We Have What It Takes?


A Letter to the Editor from the Student Dining Labor Union:

Dear UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) community,

Due to unfair wages and unpleasant working conditions, we, the Student Dining Labor Union (SDLU), are attempting to unionize. If we succeed, we will create the first undergraduate union within the UC system.

We have not yet officially voted to unionize, and we need the support of any UCSB dining hall workers to do so. Though commonly associated with unions, SDLU clarifies that its members do not currently plan to strike or walk out from the job. Before considering demonstrative action, the union would have to be officially established.

So, why are we, dining commons student staff, attempting to unionize, and what does it entail?

We, the SDLU, have cited numerous unfavorable conditions in the dining commons workplaces at UCSB. Not being allowed to sit down during shifts, managers being inflexible with schedule changes, and higher-level staff not following proper safety and training protocols are among the daily complaints student workers have made. Managers additionally have often acted unprofessional and rude in their treatment of student workers. Favoritism is rampant and many employees, especially female-presenting ones, are often at a disadvantage. The dining commons have increasingly become a hostile working environment for student employees.

As decided in Gomez v Regents of the University of California, UC campuses are not subject to the same business laws and regulations as other public institutions in the state are. As a result, as of now, it is legal for dining commons managers to deny workers a chair to sit in and for workers to not be paid overtime, even if they work outside of their normal shift hours.

These grievances, among many others, are prevalent across all UCSB dining halls and weigh on employees even outside of their shifts. Stress surrounding work has impacted our educational and social lives. Because we, as student workers, are physically and mentally exhausted from grinning through mistreatment, we barely have time to study, let alone pursue extracurricular or social activities.

Another major complaint the SDLU holds is the pay — an issue any student worker at UCSB and, likely, any other California worker making minimum wage can relate to. Isla Vista is in the top six percent of the most expensive cities in the world. A working student can tell you, it is near impossible to pay rent with a minimum-wage job while being a full-time student. While some students may rely on their parents or family for money, this is not the situation for every student worker at UCSB. For many of us, quitting is not an option: we need to work to pay rent or tuition so that we can continue pursuing our education. Unionizing will give a voice to economically disadvantaged students and protect them from unfair working conditions.

By creating a union, the workforce will have the ability to negotiate our collective interests, such as pay and protection against mistreatment in the workplace.

Lastly, SDLU would like to remind UCSB peers and colleagues that we are students just like you. Unionizing is the option left to us to help make dining hall staff conditions better. We hope our ability to organize and improve our workplace inspires other student workers at UCSB and across the UC system to think about their workplace treatment and what they can do about it.


Student Dining Labor Union