Eating in the dining hall. Riding on the loop busses. Having clean and stocked bathrooms. These are things we take for granted, and these are things that AFSCME workers do for students.
Yet UC has consistently denied AFSCME workers, who are essential to the successful day-to-day operation of its campuses and paid the least among UC employees, a fair labor contract after over a year of negotiations.
For all its petty objections to the impending three-day strike by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the University of California has nothing but itself to blame for the situation.
These workers, who are so instrumental to the UC, represent the system’s most diverse workforce — 79 percent are people of color, 56 percent are women. They are also some of the lowest paid workers in the UC.
AFSCME workers’ stagnating wages, fragile retirement benefits and overpriced health plans are falling further behind California’s soaring cost of living. The workers that make the UC machine hum bear the consequences of administrative greed, while administrative pay has swelled year after year. Currently, the top 10 percent of employees at UC account for 31 percent of payroll, while the bottom 50 percent account for less than a quarter. Under these exploitative conditions, and with all other options exhausted, a strike was inevitable.
UC Santa Cruz even attempted to demand resident assistants (RAs) work to keep the dining halls open, acting as strikebreakers against one of students’ strongest and most consistent allies. This only reinforces the university’s apathy and disrespect toward workers.
AFSCME has utilized its lobbying power not only in the interests of its constituent workers, but also to campaign against state cuts to funding higher education. AFSCME has recognized the burden of rising tuition costs and student loan debt, and has also fought for student loan forgiveness.
The same UC exploiting its workers with low, stagnated wages, escalating health care costs and alleged discriminatory hiring and promotion practices is the same UC that continues to increase tuition while increasing class sizes and stripping away resources.
It is disgraceful, yet unsurprising, that UCSC’s first response to an entirely justified strike is to attempt to draft students into strikebreaking. The use of strikebreakers is a union-busting tactic used throughout history to undermine a union’s negotiating power by minimizing or negating a strike’s impact.
While UCSC is now only asking RAs to “volunteer” to keep the dining halls open in response to student outrage, a previous email from College, Housing and Educational Services Associate Vice Chancellor Sue Matthews said signing up for a shift in the so-called “Seat and Heat” program was mandatory for RAs.
Pursuant to Section 3562(e) of the California Government Code, student employees are entitled to the right to participate in the collective bargaining and striking activities of their unionized counterparts. They are both entitled to the same legal protections. Should any RA or other student employee face retaliation for their participation in the strike, UCSC would find itself in direct violation of state labor laws.
The student body cannot rest on the sideline in the face of UCSC’s anti-union actions. Students, and particularly those instructed by the university to cross picket lines, have a responsibility to show solidarity with the workers that make their experience here livable.
Conditions on campus will certainly be difficult during the strike — but that’s the point of a strike.
These conditions are but a fraction of the pressures AFSCME workers, and workers in general, face on a daily basis.
Pressures like food and housing insecurity, which affects one in every four AFSCME workers due to deficient wages in the face of a stratospheric housing market. Pressures like having to work from dusk until dawn, with little opportunity for promotion or raises as the economy leaves them increasingly further behind.
While students may be concerned about access to food, there are resources available to feed students during this time. Despite the strike and the statement it will make to the university, workers and students are still going out of their way to ensure food access to students.
Several RAs have organized efforts to provide students, and the picket line, with food in lieu of keeping the dining halls open.
Students and AFSCME 3299 workers both face exploitation at the hands of the university. We are far stronger when working in unity. Students who stand with AFSCME also stand for themselves and their peers. The workers of AFSCME 3299 have supported the student body before, now it is the students’ turn.