Close to 100 UC San Diego students and workers staged an action on Library Walk and at Muir College protesting against low wages and insufficient pension plans last Thursday, Feb. 1.
The Labor Commission of Associated Students (ASUCSD) External Affairs and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299 Labor Union organized protests at two separate locations, one on Library Walk which took place at 9:00 a.m. and one in the middle of Muir College which took place at noon.
With signs depicting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and reading “Respect the dignity of labor,” the event also served as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of two AFSCME workers, Echol Cole and Robert Parker, who died while working on a garbage truck.
After the previous service contract ended on June 30, 2017, a new contract from the labor unions was proposed to the UC administration asking for sanctuary campus reform, an 18 percent pay raise within three years, and the maintenance of health care and pension plans, rather than the UC proposed increase in health care and pension plan cutbacks. They also request for student worker wages to be the same as full-time staff. The UC administration also advocates for a zero percent pay increase for five years and maintaining student worker pay below the UC full-time employee minimum of $15 an hour.
Stephanie Flores, an AFSCME intern, member of the Labor Commission, and one of the labor directors of ASUCSD External Affairs, said that the protests were a necessity as the university continues to deny worker demands.
“Workers are currently fighting the UC administration [because] they keep getting told no,” said Flores. “They are saying no to sanctuary campuses, no to fair wages, no to an increase of wages. We are here to show the UC administration that we are aware of the mistreatment against workers and we will not remain silent.”
“When the students and the workers are working together, the union is going to be stronger,” said Manuel Puga, a Senior Custodian at UCSD and current AFSCME member. “If we don’t do this march, nothing is going to happen. We need to be together. We need to stand up together.”
Several union members and students attending the march believe that by the UC administration denying their demands, they are implicitly showing the workers that they do not have their respect and that they do not deserve to have dignity. According to an Occidental College survey completed in 2016, seven in ten UC workers struggle with food insecurity.
Armando Abundis, the President of the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) labor union for the San Diego chapter, expressed these beliefs and asserts that without these demands, the well being of some workers could be at risk.
“We want not only dignity and respect, but we want the university to take notice that we need fair wages to be able to live here in San Diego,” said Abundis. “Living here is very expensive. We don’t want any erosion of our existing benefits. We also don’t want to give up our pension which will put some of our members at a second class status.”
Prajay Lolabattu, a member of the Labor Commission, said that the real power is calling out the administration in a public way, in front of students.
“The way things go between the UC and its workers is that the UC is completely able to ignore the needs of the workers because they control money, resources, etc,” he said. “One of the many powers we have is to call them out on it and show people what is happening and that it is not okay.”
The protests were not limited to the UCSD campus, as other AFSCME chapters hosted protests on all UC campuses except for Davis, and were joined by members of UPTE and the California Nurses Association (CNA).
While all of the protests were peaceful, an incident occurred at UC Berkeley which resulted in the arrest, and eventual release, of a UC Berkeley worker. According to the Daily Californian, housing and dining services employee David Cole was “tackled and detained” by UCPD officers after allegedly blocking an occupied vehicle and throwing his sign at it. He was released at 6:40 p.m. According to UC Berkeley campus spokesperson Roqua Montez, he will be charged with vandalism and resisting an officer.
According to Claire Doan, the Director of Media Relations at the UC Office of the President, the UC believes their current proposal as providing “fair wage increases, quality health benefits, excellent retirement benefits and additional professional development opportunities” and and views it as a better offering than most employers.
“[The] UC has bargained in good faith since spring for service workers and since fall for patient care employees. We hope the next steps, including a fact-finding phase and assistance from an objective third party in negotiations for our service staff,will encourage AFSCME to come forward with realistic proposals that lead to an agreement,” said Doan.
“Beyond this, we believe the proper venue for negotiating complex, nuanced issues is at the bargaining table, not through the media.”
Matthew Rom-Toribio is a contributing writer at The Triton.