AFSCME workers and students gather in front of Kerr Hall to deliver their contract request on International Workers' Day. Photo by Sarah Manley.

For video coverage of this event, check out City on a Hill Press’ section on the website: www.sctv28.com. 

About 50 protesters gathered in Quarry Plaza last Tuesday, assembled in support for International Workers’ Day, a day of action held around the world to honor labor unions and workers’ rights.

The day held additional significance due to a call from the Occupy Movement urging a nationwide general strike of students, workers, immigrants and the unemployed. Students showed solidarity with the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3299 (AFSCME), which had members present.

The protest partially stemmed from a complaint lodged by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), an agency charged with administering the collective bargaining statutes of employees of California public schools, universities, agencies and courts. The agency filed a complaint against UCSC on March 6 on behalf of AFSCME in response to allegations that UCSC took additional pension contributions out of AFSCME members’ paychecks without bargaining with the union (for more on the PERB complaint, see page 4).

The event opened with chants and sign-waving, but the crux of the demonstration occurred in front of Kerr Hall where AFSCME Local 3299 delivered its list of contract requests to an administrative representative, employee and labor relations manager Renée Mayne. The demands focused primarily on health care and pension contributions.

“Chancellor [Blumenthal] is in Sacramento, so I will be acting on his behalf,” Mayne said to boos from the assembled students and union workers.

Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway corroborated Mayne’s statement and told reporters that AFSCME’s contract would be shown to Chancellor Blumenthal upon his return from Sacramento.

AFSCME speakers took to the bullhorn in front of Kerr Hall. Among those was Nico Gutierrez, a senior custodian and AFSCME member voicing his dissatisfaction with Blumenthal’s non-appearance.

“AFSCME has also been in Sacramento fighting for worker’s pensions and student loans,” Gutierrez said. “Over the past 10 years, Blumenthal has never come out. It’s about doing the damn right thing for once.”

Gutierrez then led the crowd in a chant of si se puede, “Yes we can/It is possible,” the motto of the United Farm Workers popularized by Cesar Chavez.

Mayne told reporters that there is mutual dissatisfaction felt by workers and the university management, but that pension plans are a challenge nationwide, as funding for pensions has fallen as need has grown.

“The university is very committed to bargaining in good faith,” Mayne said, adding that she hoped university workers and management could reach a positive mutual agreement. “UC workers have every right to express their voice, as long as their actions are in line with UCSC policy.”

Another AFSCME worker, Rosario Cortes, expressed her displeasure with Blumenthal’s absence.

“We never see him, they never want to talk to us,” Cortes said. “For the last 20 years, they haven’t given any money to pensions. We are the ones paying for us.”

The demonstration continued to the base of campus, where workshops covering topics ranging from coordinated tuition strikes to desalination initiatives were floated between the approximately 50 students gathered there. Politics professor Megan Thomas coordinated a workshop discussing the issue of student debt.

“Here’s our propaganda,” Thomas said as she handed out flyers to students and other attendees. Few union workers were present at the campus base location.

Despite the collaborative nature of the demonstration, attendance was relatively low when compared to similar rallies held at UC Santa Cruz in past years.

Students freely engaged with the minimal police presence — one student handed flyers to a police officer, who accepted them graciously.

The march continued downtown, where UCSC students Storm Thomas and Gabe Pulido read original spoken word pieces. Other speakers included Brown Berets and UCSC professors. There was a focus on the undocumented worker experience and labor-based immigration.

The day of action ended with the Reel Work Film Festival, held at 7 p.m. at the Del Mar Theatre.