Buses were rerouted and classes canceled as unions members, students and faculty protest measures take by UC Regents to tackle budget crisis
Ashley Nguyen attended her first day of college among a raucous and riled-up group of hundreds at the base of campus yesterday, where unions, faculty members and students rallied against the budgetary problems facing the University of California.
At UC Santa Cruz, the local chapter of the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union led the beginning of the rally responding to the elimination and cut back of staff provided for research programs along with broader budgetary issues affecting UCSC.
Metro Buses were re-routed for most of the day and did not enter campus or cross the picket line. UPTE’s demonstration was supported by other unions at UCSC, including AFSCME and CUE.
Nguyen received an email from her College Nine core course instructor at midnight the night before class informing Nguyen and her classmates that attendance would be optional and if they were to come to the rally, extra credit would be offered.
“It’s my first day of class at UC Santa Cruz and it’s down here,” Nguyen said as she scanned the crowd for her teacher. “She is supposed to be wearing a tan hat.”
Despite the late notice regarding class, Nguyen was excited to be doing something different.
“Instead of a traditional, conventional day like sitting in class and taking notes we are just, like, actively out here just taking part in this,” she said.
The UCSC protest was part of a day of action held across the UC system. At UC Berkley, thousands of people occupied Sproul Plaza. In Southern California, protesters streamed through UCLA’s Murphy Plaza.
“We insist on bargaining the wage-cut furlough that’s being imposed on the underrepresented staff,“ Phil Johnston, the President of UPTE’s local Chapter, said.
Johnston went on to say that there has not been enough information made available by bargainers representing University of California, Office of the President (UCOP) for UPTE to make an informed decision on whether to sign a contract.
“We are not just going to sign off on an entire article of bargaining the UC puts on the table unless we get information to support what they are suggesting,” he said. “We ask for that information and it’s taken them months for them to get us that information. It’s quite frustrating because the whole process just stalls. UC’s priorities seem a little skewed [and] that trickles all the way down to the bargaining table.”
Kimberly Rutherford works UCSC’s 911 emergency dispatcher and is the president for CUE Local 10, the union that represents clerical workers at UCSC. She believes the interests of staff and students are closely intertwined.
“We are here for the students, absolutely,” said Rutherford. “When you take staff away, then you’ve got a few skeletal people left to do the work, students aren’t served well because how you can do the jobs of 3 or 4 people and then be there [for students]? They’re left hanging and facing delays.”
Rutherford believes a 4 percent cut to a low paid worker’s pay is felt much harder than a 10 percent cut to a much bigger salary, such as the one many UC administrators are facing.
“For those workers to lose $50-100 of a pay check—that’s their food,” said Rutherford. It’s very disturbing for me to think of people not being able to put food on their table or clothes on their children— [get] or medicine.”
Although some faculty stood in solidarity with the unions by attending the protest, other faculty members chose to hold teach-ins in their classes’ usual locations. An instructor in the theater arts department who wished to remain anonymous came to pick up informative fliers about the strike to redistribute to his class.
“This is a public university, and a part of the university is to educate and get students to think for themselves,” the instructor said. “And I will inform [my students] of the arguments, pro and con, and try and put some of the history in place. This is actually a wonderful opportunity for them to learn about what their university is. And about what the role of a state university is.”
Johanna Isaacson, Nguyen’s core instructor, saw the importance of having her students interact with those directly affected by the cuts.
“I think it’s a really important thing for students to get a sense of the history of what the university was like [before budget cuts] and what the kind of expectations around education are like,” Isaacson said. “Also there is a bit of a mystery of what teachers experience, the difference between a lecturer and a professor, what a TA does, that there are staff back behind the scenes, and unions. I didn’t know that when I was an undergrad.”
Like first-year Nguyen, other students were told about the rally through their professors. Sofia Rodriguez, a fourth-year art major, received an email from her upper division photo instructor saying that her class’s first assignment would revolve around the rally.
“This gives us first-hand experience… actual real life situations that are not planned at all,” she said seconds before snapping photos on her camera. Rodriguez and her classmates were told to take advantage of the photo-op and the details of the assignment would come later.
At 4 pm the New UC, a student run organization against privatization, led an even thicker crowd of people mostly consisting of students from the base of campus to the heart of UC Santa Cruz, Quarry Plaza. Students would later occupy Quarry Plaza and the graduate common area throughout the entire night.