Reporting by HUMJUNE GEO, ELIZABETH HARRIS, ABBIE JENNINGS & LAUREN ROMERO
Though the sun had not yet risen and rain had been falling steadily throughout the night, the resolve of the protesters shone through when picket signs outnumbered umbrellas.
Members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 (AFSCME) and United Auto Workers 2865 (UAW) united with other UC students and staff to protest against unfair labor practices (ULP) on Nov. 20.
When asked about whether the rain was going to hinder the strike, AFSCME spokesperson Julie Edwards simply smiled and said “no.”
The scene at the base of campus was that of community, with fellow protesters greeting each other in the early morning. Yet, while the protesters were calm, signs of protest had already changed UC Santa Cruz’s entrance. Tents were set up and the iconic brown and gold UCSC sign was obscured by a canvas poster adorned with “strike” and “huelga” painted in black and red.
People were no longer able to get on campus because the strike effectively shut it down. Although a shutdown was the strike’s goal, the larger aim was to show the UC administration that workers still have a voice.
“This demonstration is in response to unfair labor practices during the patient-care worker strike,” Edwards said. “There was intimidation and coercion impressed upon workers during this time and we want the UC to know that being able to speak out is a right. It’s a right that everyone should have in the UC.”
Early on in the day, some problems arose in an otherwise peaceful protest. Police cars inched through picket lines to take their positions near the base of campus, while police officers stationed themselves on Meder Street, which they blocked off to cars and buses.
Campus police Chief Nader Oweis said the police did not opine on the strike, but what mattered more was the safety of those participating in the protest.
“The police department is not worried about the reason or content of the strike,” Oweis said. “We just want people to be safe and have the right to facilitate [it] on both sides so that people’s rights have been heard.”
Minor incidents occurred at the west entrance, Oweis said. An unknown individual threw a glass bottle, which shattered about fifteen feet from the protesters picket line. Oweis said the suspect may have been on foot or on a bike, but he was gone when police officers arrived on the scene.
Cars attempting to get through either entrances of campus met resistance from protesters blocking the entrances with picket lines.
Maga Miranda, an undergraduate student, shared her thoughts on why preventing people from crossing the picket line was a necessity.
“People don’t understand what it means to cross the picket line,” Miranda said. “People said they were inconvenienced because they could not sit in their classrooms or eat at the dining hall or pick up their kids, feeling like their lives were uncomfortable for the day. I felt like that was the point, so we could know what it feels like — everyday, UC workers have to live those real conditions.”
By noon, the crowd swelled to its peak attendance. With a break from the rain, protesters gathered in a circle to listen to several speakers including AFSCME workers, poets, staff, student workers and assemblymember Mark Stone.
As assemblymember Mark Stone spoke, he represented many government officials who stood up for AFSCME statewide.
“On UC campuses across our state, legislators are standing with our workers on our campuses with the message that you are not alone,” Stone said. “There are folks at all levels of government, local, state and hopefully federal who are together, working with you and making sure the university steps up to honor some of its hardest working and lowest paid workers on all of the campuses.”
UCSC senior custodian and AFSCME 3299 executive board member Nicolas Gutierrez also spoke to the huddled protesters and expressed his concerns and hopes for the future.
“It is not right that whenever a service worker retires or leaves, they are not being replaced,” Gutierrez said. “It is not right that more and more work is left to us remaining. People are getting injured. There should be enough staff to be able to do quality work for you [students]. I am proud to work for you guys. I am not proud to work for the people who run the system, they are the problem. We need to work with legislators to beat the regents and their autonomy and get this on the ballot so that one day the people of California can take back the university.”
The unions striking in solidarity with AFSCME were also given the opportunity to express support. TA Robert Cavooris, head steward for UAW, addressed the crowd as he highlighted the irony in the UC system.
“This is a public university,” Cavooris said. “It should be a place where people can come to learn and to grow. What does it mean for the university to attack the very people that make that possible? What kind of university teaches labor history and claims to be the original authority on questioning authority, then turns around and attacks workers trying to protect themselves and improve their lives?”
As the speakers finished and the noon rally came to a close, students, workers and union members alike huddled together with their arms around each other with a final chant.
Courtney Hanson, a fourth-year undergraduate involved in student-worker solidarity since her first year at UCSC, said student support is imperative for the success of the workers.
“When the UC uses intimidation to suppress workers, students will come out to support them and be by their side, just as in the past, when students have stood up against budget cuts and fee hikes, the workers have stood up with us,” Hanson said.
Both entrances were reopened around 6 p.m. and buses began running on their usual routes.
Rosario Cortes, AFSCME member and senior custodian at Merrill College, said this is not the end of negotiations between the university and AFSCME.
“Hopefully, this will be the last strike,” Cortes said, “but we are going back to the table in December, so I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we are willing to go for as many strikes as it takes.”